Lynne Sladky / AP
Friday, July 31, 2020 | 2 a.m.
A couple construction workers dug around a small plot of dirt presumably clearing the way to put in some final signage. Another moved a cone to allow a luxury vehicle to drive through an entrance road that was otherwise closed.
There was plenty of activity Tuesday afternoon at the all-but-finished Las Vegas Raiders’ headquarters off St. Rose Parkway in Henderson — just not much of the kind anyone would expect on the second official day of NFL training camps. Most players weren’t even allowed in the facility apart from taking coronavirus tests, let alone on the practice field or in the weight room.
“I miss being around people,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said Thursday in his first media conference of training camp. “I’m a handsy guy, I like to hug people and high-five them.”
Social-distancing efforts will continue to prevent Gruden and his staff from getting too close to their players, but at least they’re soon to be around, albeit not all at the same time. NFL teams move into a new phase of training camp this weekend with players who have twice tested negative for COVID-19 allowed to go through physicals and get fitted for equipment.
Starting on Monday, an “acclimation period” begins where teams are formally allowed to hold one-hour weight-room sessions, one hour of on-field conditioning and one-hour walkthroughs. Helmet-only practices commence on Aug. 12 while fully padded exercises follow on Aug. 16, when roster sizes must be cut from 90 to 80 men.
Even when there are 90 players under contract, like there are currently, only 80 are permitted to be in the facility at one time. Full-contact practices are capped at 14 before the start of the season.
The strict and unique training-camp guidelines come out of caution not only for the pandemic but also an added risk of injury after players were away from their teams and instructed to quarantine for the last several months. The Raiders are attempting to adjust on the fly to the new rules.
“We’re not a lone ranger,” Gruden said. “Everyone in the league is going through this. We have to do the best we can. It’s not going to be an equitable, fair season. Some teams are going to be hit hard by this virus, some teams are not.”
The Raiders don’t appear to be hampered yet. Gruden reported that he hasn’t been alerted by either any positive tests or players opting out of the season.
Players will continue to be checked daily for the next two weeks. Tests then move to an every-other-day schedule with players required to wear a tracing monitor at all times in the facility so the league can determine whom anyone who tests positive came into close contact with.
Players are allowed to voluntary opt out through Aug. 4 and receive a $150,000 stipend. AFC West divisional rival Kansas City Chiefs have seen two starters from last year’s Super Bowl championship team opt out, running back Damien Williams and guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.
“This virus is a problem, a real problem,” Gruden said. “I don’t talk about it a lot but I certainly respect every man’s opinion. I hate to see players opt out but I understand every reason for it.”
In indirect ways, the Raiders might be among the most affected teams by the new protocols. They had to scramble to complete their move earlier than anticipated, as they planned on holding training camp in Napa, Calif., before arriving in Henderson shortly before the season. More important, the cutdown of practice time and lack of preseason games, all of which were canceled, could be a detriment to a relatively inexperienced team.
The Raiders were among the youngest teams in the NFL last year — ranking 22nd by Football Outsiders’ snap weighted age — and will be potentially even greener this year. Las Vegas is counting on a number of highly drafted, first- and second-year players to break an 18-year drought without a playoff win.
Gruden said he was confident the players were attentive on frequent Zoom calls and kept up with training instructions, but it’s nearly impossible to get into game shape from afar. The NFL learned as much in its last shortened preseason, as a spate of injuries plagued the 2011 lockout year.
“The big thing is transitioning from personal workouts to actual on-field things such as walkthroughs and real practices,” rookie wide receiver Heny Ruggs said. “That’s probably the biggest transition, actually doing it on the field and being in shape for that.”
The Raiders’ top pick from April’s draft described “constant weightlifting” as part of his regimen in his hometown of Montgomery, Ala., over the summer before he reported to Las Vegas. His physique showed it, as the speedster’s biceps bulged as he pulled down a Raiders mask to begin a media session over Zoom on Thursday.
He appeared to have put on muscle in the last three months, since he famously donned a sponsorship robe after the Raiders surprised many by taking him with the No. 13 overall pick.
Ruggs was also a couple minutes late to the call, as the team had to pull him away from the Jugs machine where he was working on his hands. Rookies were the first Raiders to get familiar with the facility as they were allowed to show up a week early and start their testing requirements.
The quarterbacks were the next to join them, and Ruggs has now had a couple official days of running routes for starter Derek Carr and backup Marcus Mariota.
Everyone else will be joining soon, and though the Raiders will remain more limited in how they can run a training camp compared to a normal year, Gruden is optimistic he can adjust accordingly.
“We’ve just got to deal with it and try to be creative,” Gruden said. “Fortunately, I think we’ve got a great coaching staff that can really teach the game.”