“Back up or mask up”: How the Bills are handling training camp during a pandemic

Sports

Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott looks on against the Los Angeles Chargers during the first half of an NFL game on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Rich Barnes)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A pandemic isn’t going to be an excuse for not performing at a high level for the Bills.

“I’m not lowering my standards and I don’t expect anyone in this building to lower their standards. From leadership on down they’ve done a great job getting our building ready and I’ve been very impressed with the standard that I’ve seen to this point and I expect that to carry that through,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said on a zoom meeting with reporters.

Expectations are high for the Bills, probably the highest they’ve been in decades. Not only has the entire landscape of the AFC East changed but the Bills have a major advantage this year, continuity. Their defense once again looks to be another top three unit (this would make the third year in a row if they finish there). There’s consistency with the offense, Josh Allen looks to take that next step in year three and they added a huge new weapon in Stefon Diggs.

So even though the circumstances are different heading into this season, the Bills aren’t letting that become a reason not to meet the goals they’ve set out to accomplish.

“At the end of the day we still have to hold ourselves to a high standard. Sean and I aren’t gonna sit here and say “it was the COVID year, we didn’t make the playoffs so be it.” Nothing’s changed here. We expect playoff caliber practices once we get there and it’s our job to get this roster ready to go for when we open up here against the Jets,” Bills general manager Brandon Beane said on a zoom call with reporters.

Speaking of the roster, it’s going to be much harder for Beane and McDermott to evaluate players on the bubble of making the cut without preseason games this year.

“We gotta come up with various ways to create competition and some situations in games, high impact, high pressure moments the best we can make them here,” Beane explained.

Beane put an emphasis on adding depth at certain positions in the offseason and now that depth will be tested with players possibly missing time because of COVID.

The Bills had two players opt-out of the season so far, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and cornerback E.J. Gaines. They also have five players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list after testing positive for coronavirus, a number they hope doesn’t increase.

“I’ve been very impressed with what the NFL has put into place, very appreciative as well. I think they’re doing all they can. I feel very fortunate that we can get the results back in a timely matter that we’ve been able to at this point,” McDermott explained.

One factor that’s tough for teams is it’s hard to control what people do when they’re not at the facility because they aren’t in a bubble like the NHL or NBA. But that’s where the Bills are relying on player driven leadership to hold each other accountable for what they do outside of One Bills Drive so as not to spread the virus.

“This is the year we’ve got to do whatever it takes and we’ve got to find a way to keep ourselves healthy and it’s on us all. It’s on us all to hold each other accountable and make sure we’re not doing those things and I think our veteran leaders, peer pressure, peer leadership is probably the best. I know some of those guys spoke up on a call the other day and they did a great job stressing to everyone on the call what we have to do this season and we can’t let our guard down,” Beane explained.

Last week the Bills sent the rookies home on Thursday after two players tested positive for COVID-19 and Beane said there could even be more days like that in order to take a cautious approach.

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