Washington coach Ron Rivera is determined to turn the pandemic pause into a positive. No matter NFL teams missed offseason camps and relied on Zoom meetings to teach the system. Or that there will be no preseason games to gauge rookies or even veterans in the new coach's system.
Rivera's going glass half full. Everyone is on the same level leaguewide and his players are better open to learning now that they're finally hitting the field.
"You're going to have to really work at it and find what the advantage is," Rivera said. "One thing is that everyone is starting with a clean slate and no one is starting with any bad habits as far as the way you do things. Correcting guys should be easy. I have heard this expression called learners mind. A blank slate and an eager attitude to learn and grow." Among the changes COVID-19 brings is maybe a kinder, gentler Rivera, who was known for being a hard case on Carolina players. (You've seen the film review videos.) Rivera yelled like a 1960s P.E. teacher despite the current climate when H.R. would field complaints over such bluntness. Oh wait, Washington hardly has an H.R. department. Owner Dan Snyder always chooses a coach opposite of the last one, so a tough-guy like Rivera followed easy-going Jay Gruden, just like Mike Shanahan followed Jim Zorn and Marty Schottenheimer came after Norv Turner. Snyder's zig-zag thinking is to always go the opposite direction only to eventually return to the start . . . of nothing. Without the luxury of offseason camps, Rivera and staff need to be more teachers than coaches. More patient than peeved by mistakes over the next five weeks. The NFL's slow ramp up won't even see full-pad practices and actual hitting until Aug. 16, so there's nothing for Rivera to yell about while he learns the identities behind masks. Rivera is smartly looking at starting from scratch as an advantage. The best coaches will win this season when rosters are constantly changing not just from injuries, but the impact of COVID-19. You think New England won't win just because Tom Brady left and a half dozen starters opted out this season because of the virus. Well, don't be surprised to see the Patriots still contending, because coach Bill Belichick is always the smartest man in the room. This season could see some surprise winners, courtesy of coaches willing to re-invent their tactics to adjust to ever-changing conditions. The smart coach has a Plan B for Sundays based on who tests positive on game mornings. The winning coach is one with a Plan B that Rivera's predecessor Gruden never possessed. Rivera's hiring excited fans who thought he'd whip an underperforming team into a contender. But, it may be Rivera outsmarts opponents, too. That's what training camp will show.