Two years of spending late nights at the Detroit Lions’ Allen Park practice facility has put Matt Patricia in a position to know some of the after-hours cleaning crew that takes care of the building.
On Thursday, when Patricia saw one of those familiar faces as he roamed the halls, he stopped to talk and was stunned by the story he heard.
“She … told me a story about she lost her husband to COVID and quite frankly, for me, that hit me,” Patricia said in a video conference Friday. “Really had to understand, ‘All right, hey, this is about people.’ We have to listen to everybody’s unique situations and situations to make sure that everyone’s safe. So it’s not just what makes it easy for us or how do we move as a football team, it’s about how do we help people right now because that’s real.”
To that end, Patricia said any decisions on coaches opting out of the season because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, or taking on different roles to stay out of harm’s way, are fluid with “nothing to report on that end” right now.
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The Lions had three players opt out of the 2020 season before Thursday’s 4 p.m. deadline, and the team is a week into new building and training protocols it hopes will help make it safe to finish the season.
For the past five days, since strength and conditioning work began Monday, players have worked in four groups of 20 to 25 players.
Two groups report early for morning workouts, running and treatment, and move in a coordinated fashion throughout the building to intermingle as little as possible.
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After a 30- to 45-minute deep clean of the building in the middle of the day, two more groups report and go through the same process.
The cohorts will combine to form two groups – the morning and afternoon groups – by the time on-field practices begin Wednesday.
Team meetings remain mostly virtual for now, and rookies and first-year players get extra classroom time like they would in a normal training camp.
“At some point we’ll get to the full 80 guys out on the field together in a practice format,” Patricia said. “But right now just being the first and foremost for us is to be safe, be healthy, see how everything works in the building and also kind of, I don’t want to say soft-open the building, but be able to put a group of maybe 20 to 30 guys in the building at one time, make adjustments, before we get a larger group.”
The first week was “interesting,” Patricia said, as the team lost John Atkins, Geronimo Allison and Russell Bodine to opt-outs and placed eight players on the reserve/COVID-19 list. All but three of those players have returned, including quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was the victim of a false positive.
“I know the league is working really hard to try to do everything they can to monitor and adjust as they go, certainly, and we’re trying to do everything we can to give feedback,” Patricia said. “And I think that’s the great part of it right now. There’s been a lot of calls, a lot of conversation. I think the league is doing a great job listening to all the different unique situations that all the clubs have had and trying to adjust with it.”
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Patricia and his coaching staff are adjusting, too, and planning for contingencies for the fall.
Patricia declined to say who will take over as acting head coach if he tests positive for COVID-19 and has to miss time, or who will handle play-calling duties for offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
Those topics were discussed earlier this spring, however, and Patricia said the Lions will practice with those situations in mind during some of camp.
“We tend to do this as part of our philosophy is make sure the next man’s ready to go,” he said. “That’s not only on the football field with the players, but we have always had that with the coaching staff, too, kind of next-man-up mentality. So we’ll probably put a little bit more emphasis on it during training camp and mayb…