Today marks the start of each NFL team's rookie football development program, a seven-week event which assists league newcomers with their transition into professional football.
In a normal offseason, the Rams' version would likely feature in-person classroom instruction at their facility and the chance to familiarize their rookies with the Los Angeles area. However, with meetings going virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this offseason is anything but that.
In figuring out how to best welcome and instruct this year's group of rookies amid the current circumstances, Rams Director of Player Engagement Jacques McClendon will lean on the format and structure of the last two weeks of the offseason program and incorporate a couple of his own ideas.
"When it goes to making a plan for this, whether it's direct communication from the league on what we need to hit, how we need to hit it, I think I'm able to just plug and play, because obviously we've had to ramp it up with the technology piece during this time," McClendon said in a phone interview with theRams.com last week. "But I feel like since we've already been using it, it hasn't really been a hard transition for us. We've just had to build upon the foundation, which we already started."
For the most part, rookie assimilation won't look too much different aside from the absence of on-field minicamp instruction.
According to ESPN's Kevin Seifert, the rookie transition program will incorporate up to an hour of instruction per day, up to five days a week, in addition to the maximum two hours each of classroom and virtual workout time per day for the virtual offseason program. Rams head coach Sean McVay currently has the team's virtual offseason program structured with 90-minute meetings four days a week, with players getting credit for virtual workouts by participating in virtual meetings with coaches.
Similar to the virtual conversations that have taken place since April 27 – when the team's offseason program began – rookies were scheduled to be first introduced to the team with McVay speaking to them through video conferencing technology Saturday morning, on what was supposed to be the second day of Los Angeles' rookie minicamp.
Information from the league and the collective bargaining required for clubs to present to rookies as part of the program's curriculum can still be done digitally and without in-person instruction.
Being able to seamlessly adapt to a virtual rookie transition program is a credit to Rams leadership, according to McClendon.
"Sean, (General Manager) Les (Snead), (Vice President, Football and Business Administration) Tony (Pastoors), (Senior Director, Sports Medicine and Performance) Reggie Scott, these guys have built these elite communication plans and we've all been in constant contact with each other," McClendon said.
The biggest challenge for rookies in a virtual program, though, is being able to build a rapport within themselves due to the absence of the traditional in-person connections made. A couple of the pre-existing solutions that McClendon will use include, but likely won't be limited to, Bible studies and group text chats.
"We're going to have to supplement it as best as we can and just keep it rolling," McClendon said.
Circumstances being what they currently are, it won't be a deterrent for McClendon or the organization as they work to get the rookies as prepared as they possibly can be for the upcoming season.
"We're definitely going to abide by the outlines from all these medical professionals to make sure we're safe and operate as optimally as we can," McClendon said. "I think that's one of the biggest advantages we are going to get out of this: not being in the same place is definitely not an excuse."