NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After receiving zero positive tests for two consecutive days, the Tennessee Titans returned to their facility on Saturday.
A somewhat return to normalcy is a welcome break for the Titans, who experienced an outbreak and then the investigation into possible protocol and procedural violations launched by the NFL and NFL Players Association. According to coach Mike Vrabel, the Titans have fully cooperated and are awaiting the results.
“We’ve been completely transparent with the NFL/NFLPA during this process,” Vrabel said. “We’ve made every coach and player available. The league and the players’ association has spoken to every coach and player. We’re very confident in the way that we’ve handled that and have been in constant communication with them regarding how to get back into the building.”
Safety Kevin Byard, meanwhile, said he has been taking mental notes about critical comments being said about the Titans.
“I’ve been sitting at the house watching stuff from the media saying things about the team. We know we are still in a pandemic. Obviously the protocols that we and the league have are not foolproof but they are supposed to mitigate the risks that we have. To see a lot of the comments that I’ve seen around the league, I took note of that. It’s definitely going to motivate me for sure to let the guys know what people have been saying about us as a team. At the end of the day we are 3-0 and we’re trying to go 4-0 this week,” he said.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill also took notice.
“It’s a snap-to-judgment society that we live in today. People feel empowered to have strong opinions and go to extremes without knowing the details of how things went down. I’m of the opinion that you should speak for yourself and find out details before you jump down someone’s throat,” he said.
The next few days present a challenge as the Titans get ready to host the Buffalo Bills on Tuesday night after not being in the facility since Sep. 29. Players had to take POC and PCR tests before returning. There also will be enhanced protocols that Vrabel shared with the players in a virtual meeting Saturday morning. The Titans will hold a walk-through style practice indoors because of inclement weather on Saturday.
“We’ll move around a bit on an individual basis to recreate some of the specific movements they’ll need to do their job,” Vrabel said. “Then we’ll spend a bunch of time walking through first, second and third down today. We’ll try to work with some speed tomorrow in all phases and situations then have our normal day before the game walk-through on Monday.”
The players are going through the process of learning how the enhanced protocols apply to practice.
“We’re just kind of figuring out the rules as well go. I am not sure if there are further practice rules, but we will figure that out when we get back on the field,” Tannehill said.
Although they weren’t allowed into the facility earlier this week, Vrabel said the team held a lot of virtual meetings to install their game plan and do film study. As they get closer to game day, the Titans will continue to conduct virtual meetings for the classroom component of preparation.
According to Vrabel, the coaches will have meetings in the practice bubble. The Titans have moved 30 lockers into the bubble to space out the ones that remain in the locker room. Injured players such as Adoree Jackson and A.J. Brown, who need treatment, will once again be able to work with the athletic trainers.
The Titans have 13 players on the reserve COVID-19 list. Vrabel said he is hopeful that select players can return from the COVID-19 list for this game. The Titans are making sure players are going through the protocol and getting the cardiovascular screening by doctors starting Saturday and potentially working through Monday.
Offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson returned from the COVID-19 list and Vrabel said he would practice Saturday. Wilson was placed on the list on Sept. 6. Practice squad defensive back Greg Mabin also was activated from the list Saturday.
How soon others can return depends on their symptoms and the testing they undergo over the next couple of days.
“There’s been a wide range of levels of symptoms. They’ll be back, and whenever they pass the protocol we’ll get them back to work and help the team,” Vrabel said.
Long-snapper Beau Brinkley is one of the players who Vrabel said could potentially work his way through protocol and return. Brinkley was placed on the COVID-19 list along with defensive tackle DaQuan Jones and practice squad tight end Tommy Hudson on Sep. 29.