“The pandemic-forced dicing of NFL teams has separated the 80-man Houston roster into five distinct practice groups…There is one hour all day with all 80 players and the full coaching staff in the same place, in person.” – King on Texans training camp
“I believe Week 1 will happen…In the situation that we’re in, we have a great amount of control over our building.” – Texans defensive end J.J. Watt on his optimism that the season will kick off
“Versatility of positions is big…You got to plan it out. What happens if one week you lose two or three running backs?” – Texans head coach Bill O’Brien on constructing this season’s roster
STAMFORD, Conn. – August 10, 2020 – Peter King provides an inside look at Houston Texans training camp amidst the COVID-19 pandemic after spending a day with the team virtually in this week’s edition of Football Morning in America, available now exclusively on NBCSports.com. King, who speaks with Texans head coach Bill O’Brien and defensive end J.J. Watt, details the uniqueness of this year’s training camp, including the Texans’ safety protocols, new technology, and team meetings and practice schedules.
View video of King’s day in the life of the Houston Texans training camp here.
Across NBC Sports this week, PFT Live featuring Mike Florio and Chris Simms airs from 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. ET every weekday on NBCSN, with King joining the show tomorrow and NBC Football Night in America analyst Rodney Harrison making his weekly guest appearance this Wednesday. ProFootballTalk.com continues to provide the latest offseason news, and the Rotoworld Football Podcast and Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast prepare for the upcoming season.
The following are highlights from this week’s edition of Football Morning in America:
TEXANS TRAINING CAMP
King on the 2020 NFL season: “Opening night: one month from tonight. The Houston Texans likely will be significant underdogs at Super Bowl champion Kansas City, and rightfully so. But the important thing in 2020 is something…It’s actually whether Houston-Kansas City, and the 268 NFL games after that, will be played…There’s good reason to be optimistic, at least for this season to kick off.”
King on the Texans: “On Thursday, I spent the day virtually with the Houston Texans, to see what a team is going through to prepare for a most unusual season.”
King on Texans Infection Control Officer Geoff Kaplan: “He’s the point of the spear for the Texans on COVID-19, and if any of the 180 Texans’ players/coaches/staff test positive for the coronavirus, there will be an overnight email from the NFL’s testing lab, BioReference Labs, in his Texans inbox informing him…Good news this morning: no email from BioReference. For the eighth straight day, the Texans have zero positive tests for COVID-19.”
Kaplan: “This is truly one of the biggest challenges in NFL history, and we’re all in this together.”
King on Texans head coach Bill O’Brien: “O’Brien in his car, on the 10-minute drive to team offices at NRG Stadium, thinks about the text he’ll get from Kaplan, wondering if the winning streak in testing will continue. But O’Brien is really thinking more about his roster. Strange thing, but this is still NFL training camp, and O’Brien has to prepare for a season, regardless the oddness of it.”
O’Brien on shaping this year’s roster: “Versatility of positions is big. I’ve been thinking about that a lot these days – a guy being able to do two or three different things. You got to plan it out. What happens if one week you lose two or three running backs?”
King: “This year, particularly, there will be a short runway to pick the 53-man roster and the all-important 16-man practice squad; many of those 16 could play key roles if a COVID outbreak hits the Texans.”
King on the Texans’ procedures to enter training camp: “This year at 5:23 a.m., O’Brien punches in answers to 17 questions on his phone, shows the PASS sign to the attendant, gets his temperature taken, parks, walks to the testing trailer, has a Q-tip-type thing shoved up each nostril, walks to the stadium door, stares at two orbs while waiting to be let into the building, walks 20 feet down a hall to pick up his KINEXON proximity device, waits in the cafeteria while a cafeteria worker gets his Dunkin’ Donuts coffee for him, walks up a back stairwell, and walks into his office.”
O’Brien on the steps to enter NRG Stadium: “Not that big a deal. Maybe adds five minutes to my day. I don’t really think of this as any sort of obstacle, or disadvantage. Thirty-one other teams are doing the exact same thing.”
King on team practice groups: “The pandemic-forced dicing of NFL teams has separated the 80-man Houston roster into five distinct practice groups, for the sake of social-distancing and safety.”
King: “There is one hour all day with all 80 players and the full coaching staff in the same place, in person. This is it, the full-squad walk-through, in the bubble…O’Brien brings players and coaches together, relatively speaking. The group of about 100 players and coaches spreads out from the goal line to about the 20, and O’Brien does the lesson for the day.”
King on meetings: “Because the league has made six-foot-distancing mandatory in all team settings, many teams have changed how they do meetings this year. Instead of comfortable but cozy windowless classrooms, the Texans do their position meetings and many team meetings in the practice bubble.”
King on the Texans’ morning team meeting: “The daily 8:45 team meeting kicks off…chairs at least six feet apart. The green group is here in person, as are the coaches. The rest of the team, about 60 players, join virtually via Zoom videoconference, from homes and apartments and hotel rooms and a couple from the facility across Kirby Drive.”
King on the Texans’ morning team meeting: “With a dark blue mask covering his chin, mouth and nose, coach Bill O’Brien begins the 12-minute meeting by talking about the late Congressman, freedom-fighter and Martin Luther King ally, John Lewis. The George Floyd murder caused a bit of an awakening in O’Brien, and O’Brien said he watched the eulogies at the Lewis funeral – from former presidents Bush, Clinton and Obama – and got inspired. He told me: “I said, I want to read about John Lewis’ life.”
King on press conferences: “This is going to be a strange year in mediaville, league-wide. Coaches can choose whether to talk to reporters via videoconference or socially distant in person, and most are choosing videolinks. For now, no in-person interviews with players are allowed by the league.”
King on daily planning meetings: “(Texans Executive VP) Jack Easterby convenes his standard nightly next-day planning meeting with multiple football program people…Wearing a red-and-navy mask, Easterby stresses to heads of divisions to be better at communicating…praises them for the string of all-negative COVID tests…advises them if it gets to be 110 degrees heat-index they could re-work the lifting schedule…and suggests if all the videoconferences start to wear on the players be ready to adjust.”
Easterby on the task at hand: “This won’t be as easy as we think. And it won’t be as hard as we fear.”
J.J. WATT ON THE SEASON
Watt on the risk of this season: “It’s physically impossible in what we’re doing to make it a zero-risk venture.”
Watt on whether he thought of opting out: “Uh, no. I’m in a situation where my parents are up in Wisconsin. My grandma’s up in Wisconsin. My wife’s family is in Utah. It’s me and my wife and my dogs in our household…Now if I had family, or a condition, or was living with someone with a condition I would completely understand why guys opt out. I don’t think that anybody should have any sort of stigma attached to them for opting out.”
Watt on what he likes about this year’s training camp: “If I’m being perfectly honest, it’s somewhat nice from an actual football standpoint…Now, we are very efficient in our meetings. We get things done…Just purely being in the comfort of your home doing your Zoom meetings, and not having to rush into the stadium early in the morning. It is a nice feature.”
Watt on learning from return of other sports: “MLB is the closest situation to us. They travel, like we’ll be doing, even though they travel a little bit more and stay in hotels more. They live at home. And they’ve had struggles. So, for us, we’re off to a good start, but I think it’s hard to say. It’s early.”
Watt on the 2020 season: “I believe Week 1 will happen. Because again, in the situation that we’re in, we have a great amount of control over our building. It’s not a bubble so we can’t control what guys are doing outside of the building…Once you get on a plane, you go to another city, we’re still gonna try and control as much as possible. But then you get into the fall season as well, you start getting the flu and other things mixed in. Then your risk level goes up. But as far as Week 1? I’m optimistic.”
King on new testing protocols resulting from Matthew Stafford’s false positive: “Now a new clause in the testing rules. If a player who has consistently tested negative tests positive once, he can have two tests the morning of the positive test: a point-of-care (POC) instant test and a regular test. If both come back negative, he resumes his regular role with the team. That would take no more than 24 hours, and perhaps less.”
King on competitive COVID issues: “Until now, it’s been thought that the commissioner would have to decide the fate of a game during the season if multiple players for one team – say four or five starting offensive linemen – were out after positive virus tests…There could be an independent panel of football advisers for Roger Goodell on competitive COVID issues.”
King on Roger Goodell’s potential advisers: “After a league-run meeting Thursday with football and medical people, there is some sentiment for Goodell to use a panel of three, four or five football people not working for any team for advice on the issue. I’ve been told it could include a former coach (Tony Dungy?), a couple of former GMs/personnel people (Bill Polian, Scott Pioli, Ozzie Newsome?), a plugged-in league office person (Dawn Aponte?) and a former player (Joe Thomas, Brian Mitchell?).”
King on Washington cutting RB Derrius Guice: “I think that was a good first move, and the only move, Ron Rivera…In this climate, it was impossible for Washington to allow the legal system to run its course. This was the right call.”
The following are additional highlights of NBC Sports’ NFL coverage:
- PFT Live with NBC Sports’ Mike Florio and Chris Simms airs from 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. ET weekdays on NBCSN. King will join the show tomorrow, and NBC Football Night in America analyst Rodney Harrison will make his weekly guest appearance on PFT Live this Wednesday.
- com: ProFootballTalk.com continues to provide the latest offseason news and updates.
- The Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast and Rotoworld Football Podcast continue to preview and prepare for the upcoming NFL season.
A new “Football Morning in America” posts every Monday morning exclusively on NBCSports.com through the NFL season. It was announced in May 2019 that King signed an exclusive agreement with NBC Sports Group that included writing a weekly Monday morning NFL column for NBCSports.com; making regular appearances on NBCSN’s and NBC Sports Radio’s PFT Live with Mike Florio; and continuing to contribute to Football Night in America, the most-watched studio show in sports.