With the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling the NFL’s preseason, it’s hard to believe the regular season is less than three weeks away and Nevada is less than a month away from making history when the Raiders host the Saints for the state's first NFL regular-season game at Allegiant Stadium.
The Las Vegas Raiders have been practicing at the brand-new Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center in Henderson. The facility consists of a 150,000-square-foot field house, three outdoor football fields, a 50,000-square-foot performance center and a 135,000-square-foot office area.
Less than a week ago, the Silver and Black took the field at Allegiant Stadium for the first time ever as a team for an inter-squad scrimmage.
“If you ask me, it’s the coolest place I’ve seen,” said head coach Jon Gruden, who enters his third year in his second stint with the Raiders. “Just driving down the Strip, looking across the street, seeing the beautiful casinos and then just seeing this facility that we get a chance to play in and then when you walk in, you won’t believe the locker rooms.”
After agreeing to move from Oakland to Las Vegas in 2017, it would have seemed impossible to think three years ago fans wouldn’t be able to enjoy the state-of-the-art stadium in the Raiders inaugural season.
“It’s crushing," Gruden said. "I know how bad it hurts our owner Mark Davis. Like I said earlier, he set this thing up, I don’t know how he did it but he’s crushed, I know he’s crushed, for not being able to let his fans in here and our sponsors, and the people that made this thing happen. All I can say is let’s beat the virus as soon as possible, the sooner the better, and when we do, we’re going to have some great fun in this facility and Las Vegas will come back stronger than ever, but we have to be positive right now and keep our eye on the bullseye, and that is beating this virus and hopefully we can bring some smiles to people’s faces on a football field. We miss them and we certainly can’t wait to share this Raiders organization with them.”
Added center Rodney Hudson: “It’s a nice place it’s pretty impressive. It’s a good deal. It’s a nice stadium. I’m sure whenever the fans are allowed someday, they’ll enjoy it and we’re going to enjoy to play in it.”
While fans will be allowed in the some day, there’s no crystal ball telling us when. As 2020 has been a year of change for many, training camp has been different for the Raiders and the NFL with no bubble, compared to the NHL and NBA. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said they are trying to make the best out of a very tough situation.
“With football, it’s hard to put 80 guys on each roster in one place, that would be tough,” quarterback Derek Carr said earlier this month. “So we’re trying to do it the best that we can and this what our CBA, the owners and PA that’s what we’ve come up with... We know that football can bring some hope to people, I know when the basketball games started, the baseball games started, I’ve been watching Aaron Judge hit bombs everyday. When sports are on it’s a good feeling to be able to watch something and cheer for somebody.
"We understood that we’re going to do our best to be able to play and do all of those things but we got to be as safe as possible. I have a pregnant wife, a lot of these guys have family members with high risk conditions, as do I, there’s some family members I won't be able to see until after the season, and that’s tough. This is a weird situation, never seen before, we’re trying our best. I got hand sanitizer, I’m washing my hands, I got my mask on, whatever they’re telling us to do, we’re just trying to do our best at it, whether you agree with this or don’t agree with that it doesn’t matter. We’re trying to make the best out of this situation because we feel like we have a special group and we want to put that on display.”
The NFL is having their players and staff wear "SafeZone" tags to help with social distancing and contract tracing, a concept by a German-based company that originally worked with professional athletes to track their performance before the pandemic hit.
“As soon as it starts blinking red, you’re too close to somebody, so everyone sees it and starts backing away from each other, but how do you do that as a receiver and a corner in a jam technique? So we’re trying our best,” Carr said. “But we’re hoping by the time whoever is in our building they’ve been tested so many times, and reoccurring, we’re hoping that this place is the safest place in all of Las Vegas. There are little things on the field like that, that we’re trying to stay away when we can, when Coach is breaking it down, when he’s talking we’re not as close, we’re a little farther away, but we’re trying our best, this thing is a virus and it can sneak up on anybody.”
Raiders defensive back D.J Killings, defensive end Jeremiah Valoaga and linebacker Ukeme Eligwe have chosen to opt out of the 2020 season over COVID-19 concerns.
The Raiders will open the 2020 season with a game at Carolina on Sept. 13.