Broncos must 'behave' like they are in a bubble if they want season to work

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As the Denver Broncos wrestle with what it will take to play professional football during the coronavirus pandemic, those involved say their season will be impacted by what goes on when the players, coaches and everyone else with the team is away from their complex.

So, just behave, baby.

"We're not in a bubble, but we're going to have to behave and act like we are," Broncos president and CEO Joe Ellis said. "That's not just players. That's coaches, that's myself, that's John Elway and his staff, that's everybody in the buildings, plural."

Or, as Elway, the Broncos chief football decision-maker, said this past week: "Whoever handles this the best that they can will probably have the most success. We can't sit here and bitch about it; we've got to realize it's part of it, and we've got to deal with it and deal with it with the best we can. ... As long as we realize the length of this and how long this commitment is going to be, we've got a chance to be successful."

After months of preparing their facility for the start of training camp, the Broncos have tried to come to grips with what Dr. Anthony Fauci has said in interviews: "We don't set the timetable, the virus sets the timetable."

Two Broncos have already battled the virus: linebacker Von Miller and safety Kareem Jackson. Both players have been open and honest with their teammates about what it was like and both will be leading voices in the locker room as the Broncos try to limit any potential exposures in the coming weeks and months.

The team's veteran players began testing last week -- three tests over the span of four days -- just to enter the main complex. But Elway, coach Vic Fangio and Ellis have already stressed the importance of taking precautions away from the team's complex. Practices and games will be difficult enough without players not being careful.

"We have to appeal to their intelligence, their pride, their responsibility, that hey, this is different," Fangio said. "You do not have the freedom that you're normally used to having. When you're not here, when you're outside of our building and our fields, you can't go to the bars, the restaurants. You can't be around people you don't know. You can't be in gatherings of too many people because there's invariably going to be people that you don't know. ... I can sense in talking to many of the players all through the process that they're a lot more educated -- like we all are -- than we were back in March and April. I think all of them understand the severity of it and the consequences if they stray too far from what they need to not do."

Tight end Andrew Beck is the only player on the Broncos' COVID-19 reserve list -- a player who has tested positive for the virus or come into contact with someone who has -- but they expect to deal with more than that. Team officials say they know a player can act responsibly and still contract the virus. In fact, Miller has repeatedly said, "I only left my house to pick up food, like twice" about his bout with COVID-19.

But the Broncos say the season's foundation will be built upon everyone in the organization sticking to as many precautions as possible for as long is necessary. And they aren't the only organization taking that stance. Last week, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said failure to follow the necessary precautions was "conduct detrimental" to the team. That's a phrase often used when team personnel, including players, are disciplined. Tomlin also said "it's one fail, all fail in this environment."

"We want to play football, therefore we're going to have to take care of everything off the field," Broncos quarterback Drew Lock said. "We're going to have to stay safe. We're going to have to stay smart. No one wants to throw away these extra two to three months that we put into the offseason of throwing, of lifting and of running. We need to all be safe. We need to all be smart."

Ellis emphasized the need to remind players and other team employees repeatedly about the importance of following "the right protocols and procedures and we all behave ourselves the way we should."

"If we all lock in and have that same mindset that we all want to finish this season, we all want to play this season and everybody being accountable and holding each other accountable, if everybody is on the same page and says, 'OK, we can't do this' -- we have to take a step back," linebacker Bradley Chubb said. "I know we're used to going out to dinner on Fridays, but just as a team, we have to take a step back and realize that this is going to be bigger than us. We've got families on the line; we've got coaches on the line. ... We have to be there for each other and get through it together."