Everyone has adjusted to some degree to the recent changes from the effects of the global pandemic. NFL players aren't exempt. Most teams have opted to undergo virtual offseason programs, dating back to last month, due to continued concerns over the Coronavirus pandemic.
At a time when players are entering into their third phase of offseason workout programs at their respective team facilities, fullback Kyle Juszczyk revealed the virtual calls are a constructive alternative to the in-person sessions.
"The meetings have actually gone incredibly well," Juszczyk said in a conference call on Tuesday. "The Zoom meetings really haven't differed too much from when we're in the facility. We still have great banter back and forth, great discussions. The film is up there on your iPad just like if you were sitting in your meeting room and looking at a projection screen and the coach is talking over it, and it's still very interactive so that's been good."
Through distance learning, teams can closely maintain their customary standard of offseason training and preparations. In what would have been the start of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) this week, players would undergo on-field drills in addition to positional and full-team meetings. This phase of the offseason workouts include 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 offense vs. defense drills, which are modest barometers of what to expect once training camp rolls around. Though the ability to remain on track through virtual communication has been beneficial, it's nearly impossible to replicate the physical competition remotely.
"I just think the biggest obstacle is not being with each other on the football field," Juszczyk continued. "To be able to get those reps of reacting to a defender or vice versa, for a defensive guy reacting to an offensive guy in front of them, those are things that are hard to simulate."
Despite California Governor Gavin Newsom's announcement that sports could soon be allowed to take place within the state, there has been no official announcement of if and when the 49ers can return to the SAP Performance Facility to continue offseason preparations.
In the meantime, San Francisco's coaches and personnel are taking the necessary steps to maximize distance learning experiences. Run game coordinator Mike McDaniel and passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur have each held position meetings via their home living rooms. These virtual meetings feature pre-recorded videos shown from mobile projectors of the 49ers past concepts while installing parts of the offense before an overarching offensive skill player meeting with Kyle Shanahan.
Juszczyk revealed the team's ability to keep things "light" amid the virtual sessions. Shanahan often interrupts various position meetings to check in and "crack jokes" in order to keep things loose. He also admitted tight end George Kittle keeps everyone on their toes by switching his virtual background to various (unsolicited) images of Jimmy Garoppolo, ranging from middle school pictures to high school prom photos.
Communication and building camaraderie have proved just as important when navigating the virtual sessions. With a number of rookies and veteran additions this offseason, the 49ers understand the significance of continuing to develop these new and existing relationships, especially while managing the uncharted offseason from afar.
"We have a very close-knit group, and we can all poke fun at each other," Juszczyk added. "We have a good time with it, but then we always buckle down (and) get a lot of really good work in. It's been super refreshing to be totally honest with you – how much work we have been getting done in these Zoom meetings and how much I've been able to learn going into my eighth year and playing in this offense for quite a while now.
"We can really go through everything thoroughly and learn as an entire group – wide receivers are learning exactly what the tight ends are being coached when we're in these offensive skill meetings with Kyle. And across the board, everybody's learning what everyone else is learning. So, it's been refreshing, and I think it's been really productive."