Miami Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores

Miami Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores

(I just want you to address what these challenges are that you are facing in the NFL with COVID-19, and what is the biggest hurdle, and what is the message you send to your players?) – “It’s good to see all of you guys, first and foremost. To answer your question, there is obviously a lot with COVID. I think we try to create an environment that is as safe as possible. That’s something we have talked to our players about. I think our medical staff – headed by Kyle Johnston, our head trainer – I think they’ve done a really good job of changing the locker room, changing the protocols in the locker room, the training room, the weight room and making this place as safe as possible. I think they’ve done a great job from that standpoint. My message to the players has been about really making good decisions, being responsible. I think they’re going to have to make some sacrifices outside of the building and inside of the building. I think if we can do that, we’ve done everything we can possibly do to try to limit the spread of this virus. There are some challenges, but I think we’re trying to meet them head on and do the best we can with them.”

(A question about what you saw unfold this past weekend with the Miami Marlins. Obviously you share a market with them. It’s unclear exactly how that spread happened, but it seems like everyone is taking that as a precautionary tale. What was your reaction when you saw what happened with the Marlins, and what have you learned from what’s going on there?) – “I think it’s unfortunate and our thoughts are with those who are affected with coronavirus. I think it speaks to how quickly the virus can spread, and if you’re not wearing a mask and distancing and taking the precautions, it could spread quickly. I think that was evident with the Marlins and I think that’s just an opportunity for us all to learn and see it actually happen. We have to learn from that situation and take the mask-wearing seriously and distancing seriously, and if you have symptoms, you need to report them. I think it’s an example of how quick it could spread and how important taking the precautions are.”

(When people talk about the need for more diverse hiring practices you and General Manager Chris Grier are often the face of that. I wanted to ask you how important you think that is for maybe other organizations to follow given the current state of America in regards to social justice?) – “I’ve said this time and time again, I think there are very capable minority coaches throughout the league and on our staff. And if given the opportunity, I think they’ll perform and do well. That’s kind of my thought on that. Hopefully we take the steps where minorities get those opportunities, and I think they’ll be able to take advantage.”

(Regarding the quarterback situation, is training camp an open competition or is QB Ryan Fitzpatrick first team unless or until he is beaten out?) – “I think you always want competition. We’re in training camp, so every position is an open competition. Obviously some players are further ahead than others. I think we all kind of know and understand that. But yes, we want competition and there are no jobs that will just be handed out.”

(I’ve got a question in regards to the Marlins situation. We’ve seen one case turn into four, then 12, then 17, I believe, in a matter of days. How many negative tests would it take for you guys to decide, ‘hey, we might be at a competitive disadvantage but we’re sending everybody for X-amount of days, going virtual,’ in hopes of stopping a potential spread at a low number versus staying in the building, continuing operations with the potential that a case here or there could turn into more?) – “Our message has been more along the lines of let’s try to do everything possible so that that situation doesn’t happen. Let’s wear the mask. Let’s distance. Let’s test – we’re testing on a daily basis. That’s kind of where our thought process has been. Yes, have we had those conversations about what it would take or what if a catastrophe happened? Yes, we’ve had those and there’s an action plan for that. I’m not going to get into that; but most of our energy has been towards doing the things necessary to prevent that situation. And that’s the message I’ve tried to give to the team and really everyone in the organization – players, coaches, equipment, training staff – and I think the leadership within the organization – myself, (General Manager) Chris (Grier), (Vice President of Football Administration) Brandon (Shore), (Head Athletic Trainer) Kyle Johnston, (Head Strength and Conditioning) Dave Puloka, the rest of the coaching staff – they’re all sending that exact same message.”

(What are the biggest changes in the facility as far as what you’re doing where because of the virus situation?) – “There’s been a lot of changes at the facility. We’ve created a new locker room. We’ve got plexiglass between every locker. Obviously (wearing) masks and distancing and hand sanitizers everywhere. It’s a lot of what you’ve heard. Obviously there’s guidelines and protocols and the emergency response plan we had to put in place; but I would say to me, it’s the locker room that’s the biggest adjustment – having to move guys into a different space – but we’re going to do what we have to do. We made changes to the weight room as well and had to basically create a new weight room. There are adjustments we’ve had to make. We’ve made them. So far we haven’t had any issues. Hopefully we get to continue on the road we’re going.”

(I did want to clarify – QB Tua Tagovailoa did not begin the year on the PUP, so is he fully ready to go and able to practice without limitations?) – “Yeah, he is not on PUP. Obviously as you guys know, there’s an acclimation period here for the next, let’s just call it two weeks. There’s strength and conditioning and some walkthroughs, so there won’t be much strenuous activity. I shouldn’t say ‘there won’t be strenuous activity.’ There will be from a strength and conditioning standpoint, but from a football practice, drills – that standpoint – there won’t be much; but yeah, he’s through the physical and when we do get to practice, you’ll see him out there.”

(I’m wondering, what is your biggest challenge? Is it keeping your team healthy amid the virus? Keeping them sort of ‘bubbled’ even though you don’t have a bubble? Or is it making your team good in 2020?) – “I think it’s a combination of both. I think you always want your team to be healthy whether it’s – right now COVID is what everyone’s talking about; but when we get into practice, it’ll be soft tissue injuries or shoulders or knees or things of that nature. There’s nothing more important than the health of the team. That’s going to be at the forefront this year especially; but at the same time, yeah, we’re working towards trying to improve on the field as well. So that’s fundamentals, that’s technique, that’s conditioning. There’s a lot to try to improve upon. So yeah, we need to keep them healthy so that we can go out on the field and improve. They kind of go hand-in-hand in a lot of ways. These are very, very – let’s call it unprecedented circumstances; but I think we need to make the best of the situation and that’s been the message to the team. There’s no real point in dwelling on the lack of games or practice. We just have to make the most of every opportunity we get to go out there. The healthy guys will practice and the guys who aren’t, won’t. And those practice reps are going to be very important this season.”

(Two things I’d like to ask you real quick here. One is an update on CB Xavien Howard. Obviously he’s just gone on the PUP list. I’m wondering what your level of optimism might be that we’ll see him on the field either in training camp or for the regular season opener. The second thing I wanted to ask you is if any of your players have opted out.) – “Well, ‘X’ (Xavien Howard) is on PUP. He’s been rehabbing really the entire summer. He’s making a lot of progress. He’ll be back as soon as he can. I can’t put a timetable on it. I don’t know – I know he’s working. I know he’s making some progress; but I’m not going to put a timetable on when he’ll be back. We’ll try to get him out there as soon as we can. As of 10 minutes ago when I walked into this meeting, nobody has opted out. I know we’ve had guys opt out throughout the league. Those are tough decisions to make. Fortunately we haven’t had anyone opt out thus far. There’s still obviously some time for that.”

(Does that apply to coaches as well, as far as opting out? Is the whole staff going to…) – “We haven’t had any coaches opt out.”

(Without having a normal spring and summer – you have a big rookie class, you’ve got a lot of free agents – how can you accelerate the learning in training camp, if at all, where it can make up for that?) – “I think every rep is going to be important. Every walkthrough rep, every practice rep. We won’t have preseason games. That’s all we’ve got. I don’t think there’s any point in – like I said earlier, there’s no point in dwelling on or being upset about the circumstances. We’ve just got to make the most of the opportunities that we’re going to be given here. Yeah, every rep is going to be important. Every rep in individual is – those evaluations, those are the evaluations. The improvements those guys make – the players make – in practice, in walkthroughs, they’re going to be – it either keeps them on the team or doesn’t keep them on the team.”

(I know you mentioned QB Tua Tagovailoa is going to be out there once you guys start kicking things up. How much can you realistically ask from him given this unusual offseason, from Day 1, Week 1 or even Game 1?) – “We’re going to ask him to do the same as we’re going to ask every other player: to come in every day, having gone through the install from the night before, mentally prepared to go out there and practice, physically prepared to go out there and practice and try to improve every day. That’s all I can ask from the players. Try to take it one day at a time and take the meetings to the walkthrough, the walkthrough into the individual periods, the individual periods into the group periods, the group periods into the team periods and just take things one step at a time. I know there’s a lot of people that want to talk about Tua and I understand it; but at the same time, he’s a young player, this is his first NFL training camp. I think he’s got to take it one day at a time and not think about what’s realistic for the season. I think we just need to take a one day at a time approach. That’s been my message to him and it’s not just him, it’s really every player on this team. This is a different year. This is a different type of training camp. No one has gone through a training camp like this where a lot of meetings are virtual and there was no spring, there are no preseason games. No one has done this. Instead of looking into the future, I’d rather just take the one day at a time approach and that’s the message that I’m going to give to the team, as well.”

(Have there been any considerations to – I know a bubble isn’t happening in the NFL – but perhaps seeing if players could stay in one central location throughout the season like the team hotel? It seems like the NBA and MLS has had some success by sequestering their players. Has that been a consideration?) – “Look, there are some things put in place where players – I’m not going to get into this or that. I think for each player individually, they’re going to have a responsibility to themselves and to this team to make some sacrifices in the building and outside of the building. If we don’t make the right decisions, if we’re in bars and we’re in crowded restaurants and we’re at concerts, the likelihood of us bringing the virus into the building is very high. If we don’t do those things and we distance and we quarantine in our homes and the hotel and wherever, then the likelihood goes down significantly. I think that’s pretty simple and that’s been the message that we’ve given to the players. I understand the bubble; but at the end of the day, it’s the same. It’s making the right choices, being responsible, making smart decisions. And it’s not just the players. It’s player, it’s coaches, it’s support staff, it’s all of us. One person can bring in the virus and it can spread like wildfire. I think we all understand that. So each one of us has a responsibility. If you enter the facility, you have a responsibility to the 150, 180 or 200 other people in the facility. We need to be smart and make good decisions. I think our guys understand that. Look, you can be smart and make all good decisions and it still might not work out, because that’s just kind of how this is. But I think we’d all have peace of mind knowing that we’ve done everything possible that we can do individually. If we do that, then what else can we ask for from the people in this organization?”

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