The New England Patriots returned to the practice field Saturday — with some notable adjustments aimed at protecting players and coaches from COVID-19.
In a departure from their normal practice protocol, each Patriots player wore either a face covering under his helmet or an Oakley face shield attached to the lower portion of his face mask. They also took steps to remain as distanced as possible.
“It’s obviously in the back of our minds, and I think that’s why we’re trying to do everything we can,” veteran corner Jason McCourty said in a post-practice video conference. “We’re distanced. Even today while we were in, we’re totally distanced. We all had masks on. We all have the Oakley shields on or we have a mask underneath our helmet. We weren’t in the building really at all today. So we’re doing the necessary things to stay as safe as possible.”
Belichick canceled practice and shuttered the Patriots’ team facility for three days following Gilmore’s positive test. During that period, multiple players, including McCourty, checked into hotels to prevent possibly spreading the virus to their families.
“That’s why I’ve isolated myself,” the 33-year-old McCourty said. “I think when I decided to play the game and to play this season, I knew the risk that I’m putting myself in. So I think whenever something like that happens, I’m OK with if something happens to me. I’m just trying to do the best I can to make sure that it doesn’t impact my wife and my three kids at home. My mom hasn’t been in town this season with everything COVID-related, but just trying to keep everybody around me as safe as possible.”
McCourty, a team captain and respected locker room leader, criticized the NFL and NFLPA for forcing the Patriots to travel to Kansas City after quarterback Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19 last Friday. The league moved the game, but only from Sunday to Monday, and Gilmore, who played every snap in the 23-10 loss to the Chiefs, tested positive one day later.
Players have been encouraged by the Patriots’ handling of the situation, however. McCourty was one of several to commend Belichick’s decision to keep players off the field this week, prioritizing their health and safety over preparation for this week’s matchup with the Denver Broncos.
“I think the confidence comes in the fact that we know that Coach Bill is going to do whatever he can to keep us safe,” second-year running back Damien Harris said. “Obviously, we know that he’s going to coach us the best that he can and always put us in a position to be good football players and a good football team, but we’re also extremely confident in the fact that he’s going to do whatever it takes to keep us safe.”
Added defensive tackle Lawrence Guy: “I feel like Bill did a good job of looking after the players and making sure that we had the best opportunities to stay safe for our families and everybody else. By him, closing down the facility, he’s just trying to protect us. And that’s the best thing we can do is have a head coach understand that the safety of his players is worth it.”
Gilmore and Newton did not practice Saturday. Their statuses for this week’s game against the Broncos — originally scheduled for Sunday, now set to kick off at 5:02 p.m. ET on Monday at Gillette Stadium — remain unclear.