Football players head to parks for workouts during pandemic

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - There's no set day, time or place, and very little warning.

The texts get sent out to various NFL players interested in attending South Florida's commando workouts the night before with a location and time, and that gets circulated around by past, present and hopeful professional football players.

When morning arrives, an on-field workout with helmets on commences.

That's why Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins was spotted pulling up to Fort Lauderdale's Holiday Park in his convertible Bentley on Wednesday as he and Seattle Seahawks quarterback, and former Miramar High standout, Geno Smith threw passes to playmakers like free agent Antonio Brown and the Buffalo Bills' Stefon Diggs while former Pro Bowl receiver Chad Johnson and a few others served as defensive backs.

By 9:30 a.m., Holiday Park's football field was filled with more than two dozen football players - college and pros - looking to get some field work in, and they did just that for roughly two hours.

"If you want to be the best you have to stay ready," said Brown, a seven-time Pro Bowler who spent all but one game of the 2019 season out of football because of off-field troubles that prompted the New England Patriots to release him in late September.

These commando workouts - which have been taking place in South Florida for years, but usually not this time of year because of organized team activities and minicamps - are football players' only outlet for on-field work this spring because the coronavirus pandemic has shut down the NFL's offseason program, and most parks until this week.

But twice a week these workouts and throwing sessions have been happening all across South Florida for weeks now.

"We came out here last week and they ran us off because the park was supposed to be closed," said Cleveland Browns receiver JoJo Natson, a former Boyd Anderson standout who has bounced around the NFL since going undrafted out of the University of Akron in 2017. "I'm glad we could get the work in today. We been going from park to park trying to get it in. Hopefully it can stay here."

Considering park officials, and even a Fort Lauderdale police officer, watched Wednesday's workout, it seems as if the need to keep changing the location might be over.

"We just made everyone abide by social-distancing rules, making sure everyone was spaced out, giving each body six feet," Johnson said.

The demand for these types of workouts will certainly increase as the football season's late August/early September start date approaches.

The Dolphins' Davie facility, and the league's 31 other training sites, had been closed since late March as part of the league's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the NFL allowed the opening of facilities in cities that have begun opening up last week.

However, coaches and players are not allowed to return yet.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's initial memo earlier this month detailed protocols that will allow an initial reopening phase that includes a portion of a team's employees to return to work. No more than 50 percent of a team's employees (or up to 75 people) will be allowed in the building at one time.

And these guidelines could be stricter, depending on local and state guidelines.

Goodell also stated the NFLPA is being consulted on steps that need to take place before players return to train in facilities, and that those protocols are not yet fully developed.

The Dolphins have not announced when they will reopen their facility. The Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts were among the few teams that reopened last week.

Training facilities that specialize in working with professional athletes have begun to open up, but are doing so carefully, adhering to social-distancing guidelines. Dolphins players Davon Godchaux, Gary Jennings Jr. and Ricardo Louis are among a handful of players training with Pete Bommarito at Pete Bommarito's Performance Systems in Aventura.

It's possible facilities like Bommarito's, and workouts like what took place at Holiday Park on Wednesday, could see a spike in participants as the calendar creeps closer to kickoff.

"We're just getting a little spring training in, staying in shape. Getting back in the groove. It's OTA times so we got our helmet trying to stay proactive while we fight the virus and stay in shape," said Brown, a South Florida native who is hopeful that he'll find a new NFL team for the 2020 season. "We're just waiting to hear further details from the higher-ups and fall in line. Right now we're just controlling what we can control and let everything else fall in place."