Broncos want virtual meetings to remain a reality

Will NFL teams struggle to follow safety protocols? (1:26)

Rob Ninkovich foresees it being very difficult for teams to adhere to the NFL's safety procedures for the reopening of facilities. (1:26)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- From Von Miller to Drew Lock to Kareem Jackson to Bradley Chubb to Courtland Sutton, up and down the Denver Broncos' roster, players have said this offseason has been like none in their athletic lives.

But as the virtual-only offseason program necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic is set to wind down in the next week or so, there are some who hope Zoom meetings can be part of the future -- at least some of the time.

"I was skeptical about the [Zoom] meetings, I didn't know how they were going to go," Chubb said. "But I'm excited to see everything that happened with them so far. ... I think we could do it again, I do."

Jackson said: "I actually told the coaches, I said I think for the first two phases of OTAs [organized team activities] we should do this. That way everybody can stay home and do whatever we need to do. Then come in and we just practice in Phase 3 and minicamp. It's been going pretty good. I think it's been very productive for us."

The Broncos have conducted virtual meetings with coaches and players since early May. Players have had meetings with their position groups as well as the full offense and defense. Odd at first, most said they found a comfort level. Coach Vic Fangio and team president/CEO Joe Ellis have also used the format to speak to the team on social justice issues.

Much like the draft, when coaches and personnel executives across the league said they enjoyed more time with their families while still accomplishing the work, players have seen the potential benefits of virtual meetings, especially in the early part of an offseason program when the on-field work is limited to conditioning only.

Change can come glacially in the NFL, and it may be difficult for coaches and others in the football business to consider virtual meetings instead of bringing all of the players into the building in April and May. Ultimately, the proof of how this offseason worked will be in how the games look once they get played.

"I think, maybe, the first couple days of training camp might be different," Chubb said. "But I feel like after that, once we get our feet wet a little bit, it's going to be fine."

Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, a 29-year assistant in the NFL, said coaches have had to learn "to be creative." Some of the team's other assistant coaches, such as defensive assistant Chris Beake and secondary coach Renaldo Hill, have incorporated software into the virtual meetings to help with the interactions with the players, including quizzes.

"And we had themes, you know like one theme was who is your favorite music artist, if you had to listen to one [musician or group] the rest of your life, you put it in your background and it created a dialogue with each other," Donatell said. "We had some fun with it."

Asked if the process had worked better than he may have thought when the coaches were planning the meetings in April, Donatell said: "I really look forward to [the meetings], it just made us think of new ways ... I think they appreciated it, I think this could be part of the future at certain times, to start off with a virtual setting."

The most similar recent offseason to this one, at least in terms of conducting football practices, would have been in 2011. Because of the lockout that summer, teams did not hold an offseason program. A new collective bargaining agreement was finished in late July and teams reported to training camp days later for what was their first on-field work of the offseason.

"It's kind of like that for sure," said Miller, who was the Broncos' first-round pick in the '11 draft and the only player on the roster who was with the team. "I was just a rookie, but it's been like that in how you work out on your own and stay ready. But we didn't have any meetings at all."

Fangio, who returned to the Broncos' Dove Valley complex last Friday as the team's assistant coaches returned this week, has joked the team's "I.T. people are the real MVPs" and "they had to kick up their game" to make it all work.

"We want to make the most of it," Fangio has said. "I'm confident we'll get a lot out of it."