Bills coach Sean McDermott probably knew it was coming.
After all, much of the NFL’s last few months has been focused on Covid-19, which disrupted all of last season, particularly the touchy issue of vaccination.
Teams must have a specific percentage of players vaccinated to return to relatively normal operation and no league team appears close.
Indeed, Rachel Bush, the wife of Bills safety Jordan Poyer, in a since-deleted tweet, posted on Twitter that a number of high-profile Buffalo players were against vaccination and inferred that trying to force them to do so would divide the team.
Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow deals with that very issue, as it relates to the Bills, elsewhere on this page.
BUT THAT wasn’t the only subject coach Sean McDermott dealt with in his Zoom call with the media midway through the team’s voluntary Organized Team Activities (OTAs) at the Bills’ ADPRO training facility next to Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park.
The biggest news was that Buffalo’s fifth-year coach revealed it’s a “possibility” the team could hold training camp at St. John Fisher College, but conceded it would be a “heavy lift.”
He pointed out, “There’s a lot of layers on that as you’d expect with the Covid situation and all the protocols.” Not the least of which is meeting the required player vaccination rate.
“We are in communication with St. John Fisher and trying to see what can be worked out ,” McDermott admitted. “Our operations staff is hard at work trying to figure all that out. I’m sure we’ll have a decision soon.”
The NFL alerted teams early this month that they were allowed to leave team facilities for training camp, but those plans need to be approved by the league.
Last season teams were mandated to hold camp at their own facilities.
FORMER team general manager Russ Brandon, a marketing specialist, moved Buffalo’s training camp from Fredonia State to St. John Fisher in suburban Rochester, his hometown, in 2000.
The move was inspired as that city has a number of season ticket holders and is located between Buffalo and Syracuse in the virtual center of the Bills fan base.
“We’re doing our due diligence,” McDermott said. “We wouldn’t be going about it the right way if we didn’t look into it.
“I’m a fan of going away to camp (but) the protocols are the protocols and it changes the way you can operate. Fans come from all over Western New York to visit us there and it’s a chance to connect with us. We’re trying to do our darndest to look at all the protocols and layers that it would take to pull it off there.”
McDERMOTT was asked how many players showed up for Monday and Tuesday’s workouts which are optional to veteran players.
He replied “70-plus,” which is a good representation from Buffalo’s 86-player roster and, in the course of the session, he admitted both wide receiver Stefon Diggs and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei were among those not attending.
Of course, he offered a predictable response to how he assessed the team last week’s two-day rookie mini-camp and a similar length OTA.
“It’s hard to tell,” McDermott said. “It takes time to really get a feel for just what you’ve got. Right now we’re out there in shorts, t-shirts and helmets which is not really football.
“I really appreciate the participation and the players who have shown up (but) we’re gonna crawl before we walk.”
He added, “We’re certainly encouraged by the guys we have here … it speaks to the guys we have and the kind of people we have. They know they get better by being here. It’s a time you build a team, being around each other to build a chemistry that’s so important to good teams.”
McDERMOTT, who seemed subtly miffed at the no-shows, admitted, “You can tell the guys have worked, they’re in what I would consider fairly decent shape at this point … (though) not good enough. I think the great part about the guys that are here is that we get a chance to see where they’re at and they get a chance to see where their teammates are at and compare and contrast what work remains.
“”The guys that (aren’t here) I expect them to be working out, working their tails off and getting themselves ready to go because what we did last year is not going to help us this year. Each year is its own situation and opportunity … if you put in the work you usually see the results.”
He maintained, “You’ve got to earn it ...that’s what this league is all about. That’s why there’s parity and why it’s the attraction to the fans that it is. Every Sunday, every team has a great chance to win no matter what the record was the year before or what it is the current year.
“We have to define ourselves this season and the only way we’re going to do that is by having our team together and everybody busting their (butt) to get ourselves ready to go.”
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)