During his pre-mini-camp Zoom call with the team media late Tuesday morning, Bills coach Sean McDermott got a familiar but uncomfortable question.
He was asked where his team stood with Covid-19 vaccinations as the National Football League has set 85% as the plateau for resuming normal activity, a standard only three teams have reached.
“We’ve tried to do our best to educate and build awareness. (But) the players have to make their own decision,” he said. “We feel like we know in our country and around the league how things are improving and, to me, there’s a direct correlation to people being vaccinated. I would like to continue to see our team move in that direction … continue to move toward the number of people (needed) who are getting vaccinated.
“That being said, I certainly respect everyone’s position. That’s really where I’m at and where we’re at ... it’s just good to have all our guys here.”
But you got the idea he knew what was in the offing.
A day later the NFL and its Players Association updated protocols to loosen restrictions for fully-vaccinated players.
However, life got tougher for those who are unvaccinated. They still must get tested daily, wear masks and practice physical distancing.
In addition, they can’t eat meals with teammates, can’t participate in media or marketing activities while traveling, aren’t permitted to use the sauna or steam room and may not leave the team hotel or interact with people outside the team while traveling.
Vaccinated players do not face those restrictions.
One day before that announcement, McDermott related, “The reality of our situation is that come training camp and the fall, protocols are going to continue to be enforced, in particular for those who are unvaccinated as it relates to the masking and the different things that are in place.
“We’re just trying to be real about it and make sure everyone understands what normal is going to look like, in particular for those who are unvaccinated come the fall. (Still,) I feel better (than during last week’s OTAs) and feel like we’re moving in the right direction. The important piece is that we continue to build awareness.”
McDERMOTT also got some more mundane questions.
What’s the advantage in the continuity of Buffalo’s coordinators: Brian Daboll (offense) 4 years, Leslie Frazier (defense) 5 years and Heath Farwell (special teams) 3 years?
McDermott: “There’s a value in the cohesiveness of the group … within that though, you have to be careful not to get stale … that you always continue to grow and push the envelope. But that familiarity allows us to take further steps into those finer points and granular pieces of the game. It seems like we’re always chasing it, even though we’ve been together for a few years now.”
What are the expectations of defensive tackle Ed Oliver, Buffalo’s first-round pick in 2019, after two relatively disappointing seasons?
McDermott: “It’s to affect the game … he’s a top pick (ninth overall) and he’s there to affect the quarterback. This will be an opportunity for him to develop into a consistent performer for us. I really appreciate the way he’s worked. I think his offseason, to this point, has been one that has positioned him to do (that). But there’s a lot of work to be done.
“There’s an element of physical skill and there’s also an element of the mental approach to the game and those two have to come together for players to become elite at what they do. I know he’s working hard at those two to improve his game.”
What about a running game that ranked 20th in the league last season while the team was tied for second in overall offensive yards and third in passing yards, a mere six behind second-place Tampa Bay?
McDermott: “The word balance gets thrown out there, but I’m not sure that’s always the right thing. At the end of the day, what does it take to win the game, what does it take to develop the offense, what does it take to close out games? It’s always moving in terms of that bulls-eye, depending on us, depending on the opponent, depending on the situation … there’s other ways to be balanced without being balanced.
“I do believe you win up front, you’ve got to control the line of scrimmage whether you’re throwing it or running it in order to put up points.”
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com)