ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Uncertainty has entered the NFL offseason.
League and team facilities remained closed indefinitely, and the offseason program — which was scheduled to begin April 6 for teams with new head coaches — has also been put on hold.
How, then, are teams to prepare for a season that is scheduled to begin in September?
Loren Landow, the Broncos' head strength and conditioning coach, is doing his part.
As the Broncos near April 20, the scheduled start for Phase I of their offseason program, Landow and his three assistants have designed a program to keep the team's players in top physical condition if they are unable to be present at the UCHealth Training Center.
Landow's staff's plan began months ago, when the group designed individual sets of take-home voluntary workouts for each player on the 90-man roster.
Those plans are designed around reducing the amount of weight lifted, increasing repetitions and slowing down the pace of each workout.
"The offseason is the time that we kind of rebuild the body," Landow told DenverBroncos.com this week. "With the take-home program that the guys have already, that should at least lay a pretty good foundation. … You do those things to really work on the connected tissue, the tendon strength of the muscle. You're trying to preserve the strength and the stability of the joints."
If players request any help with their voluntary workouts at home, the prescribed offseason workouts also include sprint work to help players strengthen hamstrings, hip flexors, ankle joints, calf muscles and other key areas.
When the voluntary offseason program begins, there won't be too much of a shift. Landow and his team will still prescribe a plan that players can complete from afar.
To assist with the transition and to ensure coaching points aren't lost, Landow and Co. recorded more than 100 different workouts on video that can be downloaded by the players if requested.
"It shows them exact video of the technique of how we want it to be done," Landow said. "And then I can put in different coaching cues that I want them to really focus on during each exercise. We did a good job of being on the front-end of this, I believe, to give our athletes the best ability [to succeed]. If Phase I, Phase II or Phase III are virtual, we feel that our players will have a nice setup for them to be successful."
Though players on the Broncos' roster have varying amounts of exercise equipment, Landow ensured the team would be as prepared as possible. When it became apparent that the NFL offseason program would likely be delayed, Landow worked with vendors to make exercise equipment available to members of the roster if requested.
The setup varies by player depending on if they're in a house or apartment, but dumbbells and an adjustable bench press were among the five or six items in which some players chose to invest. Landow said players were able to add squat racks and free weights to develop "as extensive a weight room as they want."
If and when Landow is allowed to initiate sessions with the players — the NFL and NFLPA are still working through standards for a virtual offseason program — he hopes to meet with each position group via video conference. That could be particularly important following the 2020 NFL Draft, when Landow looks to help rookies adjust to NFL standards and techniques.
"One of the biggest things we want to do if needed, is we want to do a positional group Zoom call, so I can at least explain to everybody the technique and the different things that I'm looking for and that I want them to pay attention to in these exercises," Landow said. "Our players are really well-versed in the weight room. We have a great work ethic on our team, so I'm not concerned with anybody skipping reps. Our technique should be pretty good with most of our players. It is with those incoming young guys who we have really haven't seen them move. That will be where we have to have an extra area of consideration or caution while providing their programs."
Though the workouts are generally standardized, Drew Lock and Von Miller won't be running the same amount or completing the same lifts.
During the offseason program, the Broncos work out in three groups: the "bigs," "middles" and "skills." The differentiation allows offensive and defensive linemen to focus on position-specific workouts, while linebackers and tight ends and receivers and defensive backs do the same in their respective groups.
"When it comes to the lifting, there are certain things that Brandon McManus has to do and Drew Lock has to do that's different than a Von Miller," Landow said. "We're making sure that we're checking all those boxes of getting the specificity to each individual player in the take-home program as well."
All players, though, will have some degree of sprint work to ensure they're ready to return to the facility — regardless of whether that's in minicamp or training camp.
Consistent training in the offseason, Landow said, can help prevent injuries when the players do return to the field.
"The worst thing you can do right now is just be lifting and not going out and doing any of your movement, any of your corrective exercises, any of your pure sprint work," Landow said. "That's so foundational to the sport. The sport is a lot of collision, but it's a lot of high doses of acceleration and deceleration. It's going to be imperative that our players get out and work on those skills. Getting out and working out on their conditioning … will be a big part of that as well."
Landow emphasized that the Broncos should practice proper social distancing during such conditioning as well as adhering to all local guidelines.
As the Broncos lift and condition, their diet will remain an important part of the equation. Director of Team Nutrition Bryan Snyder has also prepared individualized plans for players to fulfill pre-workout and post-workout needs, if requested.
"He builds really great plans for these guys," Landow said. "We've got a strong relationship between the athletic training staff, the nutrition staff and the strength staff. We're on the same page. I'm very, very hopeful and very excited to see how we work as a team during this time."
Landow does have some experience navigating an unfamiliar situation and preparing athletes for a moving target of a return date. Before joining the Broncos in 2018, he ran Landow Performance, which works with athletes from a variety of sports.
In 2011, as the NFL dealt with a lockout, Landow guided nearly 60 NFL athletes to ensure they were ready for an eventual season and for their respective conditioning tests they would take upon returning to their clubs.
That offseason could pay dividends as Landow and his team adapt their plan depending on the latest updates on the COVID-19 crisis.
"Even though I had my plan, I had to adjust each week as we were hearing from the Players Association what may or may not be happening with the lockout," Landow said. "I have some experience with this kind of fluid model or this target where we don't really know what we're trying to go for. My goal is to make sure the players are moving in the same direction if they came to us on April 20. I'm going to make sure everything we expected of them in Phase I is being implemented and sent to them. Same thing for Phase II, same thing for Phase III.
"All we'll do is readjust and recalibrate as we know more."
For Broncos fans looking to stay in shape during unprecedented times, Landow has also recorded a series of home workout videos. He was recently mentioned on NPR's Weekend Edition, and his videos can be found here.
Though you should be careful not to overexert yourself, Landow spoke of the benefits of staying active during this time:
"During this time when everybody's in quarantine-type orders and being in in-home scenarios, I think the biggest thing is staying active," Landow said. "I think people are putting out a lot of good information on social media, but I think it's also very important that you don't over-do it right now. The goal of working out is obviously to bolster your immunity, but if the workouts become too challenging, you can actually suppress your immunity. So I think it's important that you do stay active, but you watch that you don't overdo it. ... People just need to be smart. Stay active, but stay within what your capabilities and what your abilities are in your own fitness.
"The people that have a good and long history of working out, a few weeks of down workload won't hurt them. It might actually help them. Anybody who's trying to get into a workout routine, this is a great way to have a great endorphin response, bolster your immunity, but also just take your mind off the current constraints that we have."