Jalen Mills was just getting comfortable in his locker-room stall after practice Wednesday when fellow defensive back Darius Slay reminded him they were on the clock.
After an Eagles staff member tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday, the team went into the league-mandated intensive protocols. The guidelines bring plenty of changes, including a requirement that each position group gets only about 15 minutes in the locker room before and after practice.
“We can’t just sit in the locker room,” Mills said. “We have to be in and out. There are a lot of different protocols and different things. I think the most difficult thing is the time management now, because as football players, we want to sit in the locker room, chill and talk before meetings or practice.”
The locker-room time limits are only part of the changes. The team is now holding its meetings virtually, meaning the players spend less time at the facility and more time in virtual meetings from home.
Once they get to the facility, practices are more spaced out and every player is required to wear a face shield. They’re required to avoid huddling and have to review plays on personal tablets instead instead of looking at the same screen.
“It was kind of spaced out on the sideline,” Mills said on the biggest differences Wednesday. “We have to wear the Oakley face guard, which is really hard to breath out of while playing football. ... It was definitely a little different."
It’s unclear which staff member tested positive for the coronavirus. Safety Marcus Epps was placed on the COVID-19/Reserve list last week after testing positive for the virus. He was the first Eagles player to catch the coronavirus since Lane Johnson and Nate Gerry, both of whom were infected during training camp.
Matt Pryor was placed on the list and went into quarantine last month, but it was because of an exposure to the virus outside of the Eagles' facility.
Head coach Doug Pederson, who tested positive for the virus during training camp, said the team’s experience holding virtual meetings over the summer helped the transition back to the world of videoconferencing.
“We leaned on our experiences from the spring, in the summer, and training camp with the virtual stuff,” Pederson said Wednesday morning. “We had a really good session with the players and their meetings, and now we get them over here to test and practice on the field. So we’re just limited in the amount of, I guess, availability with the players, right now, but we’re going to make the most of it and the messaging is that we eliminate distractions and we focus on the Giants and we prepare that way.”
The team had virtual meetings in lieu of rookie camp and OTAs, which were both canceled because of the pandemic. Training camp was also slightly delayed while the NFL and the players’ union agreed to a testing system that would keep the players safe.
Center Jason Kelce echoed Pederson’s sentiment, saying the intensive protocols shouldn’t affect the team too much.
“We’ve had a lot of experience with the virtual meetings up to this point, so I wouldn’t say that it’s too different,” he said. “I think that if we hadn’t been doing this all offseason already, and tried to do it randomly in the middle of the season, it might be a bit of a challenge, but we did this for the entire offseason. We did it a lot during different meetings throughout the year. So, I think everybody at this point is perfectly comfortable doing things virtually, if necessary.”