BOSTON (CBS) — Patriots training camp is underway in Foxboro — sort of. Players have taken physicals and, more importantly, their COVID-19 tests, but they aren’t playing any football yet. That won’t come until later this month, when the team would usually be playing preseason football.
In this strange year that is 2020, nothing is normal. For anyone. And for Patriots players, that includes everything inside and out of Gillette Stadium.
The locker room, usually a jumbled mess of bodies, is now wide open. Player meetings have been broken up into smaller groups. And players will no longer pile in to eat lunch together in the cafeteria.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has led to uncertainties everywhere, those who have reported for duty at Gillette Stadium said Wednesday that they certainly feel safe with all the team has done to help keep players healthy and prevent the spread of the virus.
“It’s Day 2. We are still feeling our way around but you do feel safe,” linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley said during his Zoom call with reporters. “You do feel like (efforts) were made to make sure we feel as safe as possible. Procedures and things like that have definitely been changed in more ways than one. That’s a positive thing.”
“I haven’t put a helmet on since last season. It’s unique and it’s different,” said offensive lineman Joe Thuney. “But our strength and conditioning staff does a great job working us into that so we’re ready when the full pads go on… Everyone is locked in and we realize it’s a different year, we have to be on top of our stuff.”
“It’s a lot different, but it’s necessary,” added cornerback Jonathan Jones.
Jones was critical of the NFL just a few weeks ago, as the league was setting out guidelines for what players can and can’t do on the field. One of the new rules was getting rid of the “jersey swap” that has become a common practice after most games. Jones took to Twitter to say the league had some bigger issues to deal with:
I don’t know who needs to hear this but you can’t social distance football…
— J Jones (@Jonathan_Jones2) July 14, 2020
On Wednesday, the corner clarified what he meant with the Tweet, and expressed some confidence in the NFL and the changes it has put in place.
“When I tweeted that, it was more about some of the protocols they started enforcing like the jersey swap and things like that,” Jones said. “As far as being in the facility and being in meetings, they’ve gone to great lengths to make sure that we’re safe in those regards.
“Referring to my tweet, it was more, when you’re out there on the field there’s no social distancing in that,” he added. “So, trying to eliminate jersey swapping and things like that, I kind of saw no point to that.”
Because of the concerns over playing football during a pandemic, over 50 players have opted out of the 2020 season — including eight Patriots. After getting to see the changes made to the New England facilities the last few days, he doesn’t sound like he’ll opt out ahead of Thursday’s deadline.
But Jones also voiced some concern about those in the NFL who may not be taking the pandemic seriously. It’s those players who will put the season, other players, and other players’ families at risk.
“The key to the season is making sure everyone buys in and keeps everyone safe. It doesn’t just affect your team, it affects your team’s families. We have to hold each other accountable to make sure everyone is trying to stay safe and keep everyone else safe,” he said.