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Dan Quinn breaks down policies and procedures as Falcons return to work

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On a video call Tuesday morning, Falcons coach Dan Quinn joked with the 2020 rookies that they weren’t even born when driving laws didn’t mandate seat belts be worn at all times like they are today.

“When I was a kid,” Quinn said, “you were climbing from the front to the back, you didn’t need a seat belt. But now, you wouldn’t even think about going anywhere without a seat belt.

“Wearing a mask? That’s our seat belt.”

Tuesday marked the official return of the final wave of veteran players to the Falcons’ practice facility in Flowery Branch to get its first of two COVID-19 tests done before strength and conditioning workouts begin next week (players being tested must be negative for two tests before being allowed entrance into the facility). Rookies, quarterbacks, injured players and coaches were all tested last week, and the rookies began walkthroughs with the staff on Monday and Tuesday. But Tuesday afternoon, the Falcons announced rookie safety Jaylinn Hawkins was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. The organization is not permitted to comment on a player’s medical status and may not disclose whether a player on the list is in quarantine or has tested positive for COVID-19.

Quinn spoke Tuesday afternoon before the news about Hawkins was released and broke down some of the protocols that have been set in place for the start of training camp.

Logistics for better social distancing practices

In a quick note, Quinn joked that the past few days have almost felt like moving old furniture into a new house as the staff works to figure out the best way to socially distance during in-person meetings throughout the next few weeks of training camp. With some meetings now moving to a face-to-face setting instead of via Zoom or Microsoft Teams video calls, various position groups had to move out of their original meeting rooms to places with more space. For example, the offensive line will meet in the team’s draft room while wide receivers will meet in the team room.

“The position groups that had more players, you needed bigger spaces to do that,” Quinn said.

He said scheduled full team meetings will be held in the indoor practice facility.

“I think (it will be) like a clinic setting where we have some chairs out and do it in the indoor field,” Quinn said. “That way we will put a screen up there and do some of it that way.”

How practices change with no preseason games and exhibitions

Quinn said he had not had any conversations with players about opting out of the 2020 season, so with that in mind, he and his staff will have a slew of decisions to make regarding roster construction once training camp begins. Without preseason games and exhibitions, Quinn said there will be changes to the way the coaching staff and players attack training camp and the way coaches evaluate the players. He explained that with preseason games coaches get to see the unscripted moments, a luxury teams do not have this year after the NFL canceled preseason games. The staff is going to have to replicate that as much as it can in practices and scrimmages so it can get the full picture of a players’ potential.

“Those scrimmage days, I think, are going to be an important part of the evaluation because that’s the very best that we can do at the moment,” Quinn said. “We’re gonna try and create those opportunities and moments to let those players do their thing and get a real chance to evaluate.”

Quinn said these will be meticulously planned moments to evaluate specific players because those will be the only chances this staff will see players against players. They will be player-specific matchups, so coaches can answer the question of what happens, for example, when a running back faces off with a linebacker.

“We’ll do a little setup. Let’s put runners on second and third and put the guy at the plate at practice, so to speak,” he said.

Questions regarding roster construction

In a memo sent to clubs obtained by The Athletic, teams may begin training camp with 90 players on their active list as has been the rule in years past. But if they so choose to keep 90 players, they must split the team into two groups: rookie and first-year players in one group and veterans in another. Clubs must reduce that number to 80 on or before Aug. 16. If a team chooses to reduce its roster to 80 before Aug. 16, players can practice together. When asked about this new rule, Quinn said this is a decision the Falcons are weighing.

“If you split, there’s a good chance your rookie players wouldn’t know a veteran player because they wouldn’t be there together,” Quinn said. “So, how quickly do you want to act on that, (adding someone like) A.J. (Terrell) and Marlon (Davidson) to the group?”

Where the hole in protocols can be found 

Quinn said he felt that when the players are at the facility that time will be the safest part of their day. The players know the people they are around, they know everyone in the building has received two negative tests, and they know there are protocols and guidelines everyone must follow. He said it’s not a perfect situation, but having safety protocols in place is something that can’t be said for everywhere these players can go once they leave the facility. That is where the questions arise because without a bubble protocol like in the NBA, MLS, NHL or WNBA, it falls on the players to make a conscious decision to limit their circle.

“It’s been helpful to know that there’s lots of space, lots of testing, lots of protocols, meals separated. Coming in, you just have to follow the rules. You know, you put your mask on and follow the rules, and everything kind of takes care of itself,” Quinn said. “Away is where I think it’ll feel different.”

And this leads to an important note Quinn had for the team during this time …

“Be the best teammate you’ve ever been” 

There is a certain responsibility every player and coach have to one another now that training camp is set to begin. Quinn said that he has learned the past few months that you can do all of the right things, take all of the right steps and still have a positive test. The team has protocols in place and should be ready for when that moment comes, but it’s important everyone is on the same page in the meantime.

And that page is everyone being disciplined even when the players and coaches leave the facilities.

“A lot of us are going to have to be the best teammates we have ever been because we’re not only trying to take care of one another but we’re looking after our families, too,” Quinn said. “We’ve got to make the best decisions off the field.”



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