When Miami coach Manny Diaz started a Zoom session with reporters Thursday, he said his Hurricanes expected to start preseason camp Friday with a full roster.
During the 20-minute call, Diaz received a message from Gregory Rousseau: The all-ACC defensive end was opting out of the season because of the coronavirus pandemic, presumably to begin training as a likely first-round pick in the next NFL draft.
The Coral Gables bombshell was a reminder that nothing about this season and this year will be normal — not even a routine news conference to preview the first day of practice.
“It’s unfair to call it business as usual,” Diaz said. “It’s different. 2020′s different.”
The differences will be evident Friday when practices begin at Miami, Florida State and USF with new safety measures, social-distancing procedures and on-field adjustments after the abrupt end to spring ball.
Start with something as simple as what players and coaches wear. Inside, Florida State coach Mike Norvell and his staff wear cloth masks. But outside during drills, Norvell has been wearing a clear plastic face shield to protect himself and his players.
“It allows our guys to at least see the expressions or hear the words and the communication as best as possible,” Norvell said.
His players have new equipment, too. FSU has been experimenting with clear shields on face masks to add another layer of protection.
“Definitely a lot hotter,” standout defensive tackle Marvin Wilson said. “But at the end of the day, whatever helps keep us safe and be able to play our sports.”
The ‘Canes have made countless tweaks, from the way the team stretches to how and where players stand when they’re not participating in a drill to making sure everyone has a personalized water bottle.
During summer drills, linemen used crunch balls to avoid close contact with each other. And Miami is shelving its version of the famed one-on-one Oklahoma drill, where players circle around a pair of colliding teammates.
“There’s not a place for that, at least here, in 2020,” Diaz said.
FSU’s on-field drills will also be different, especially in the opening days of camp.
The team will start with split-squad practices and continue with fewer group/team activities and more individual work. The adjustment will likely reduce contact, but, as importantly, will allow the ‘Noles to work on the basics they didn’t get to refine when spring practice was axed after three days.
“We get to focus more on the details and the fundamentals of the game,” offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham said. “At the end of the day, that’s where football games are won and lost.”
The move does, however, bring a trade-off; Norvell said the Seminoles might not immediately have their full schematic arsenal available.
This season’s abnormalities show up on rosters, too. The most obvious change is Thursday’s sudden departure of Rousseau, whose 15½ sacks as a redshirt freshman last season trailed only Ohio State superstar Chase Young.
Wilson — who could have left early to become a first-round pick after last fall — said he hasn’t considered skipping this season.
“I didn’t come back to sit out. ...” Wilson said. “I think that’s just taking the easy way out. For me personally, I feel like I have work to do here in Tallahassee.”
Even if no other players choose to follow Rousseau, rosters could remain fluid based on the coronavirus. Diaz laid out hypotheticals where his secondary might have to start four cornerbacks one game and four safeties in another. Offensive linemen could become interchangeable parts.
The ‘Noles and ‘Canes have discussed cross-training players across positions and sides of the ball to build depth. Neither coach went into specifics, but Norvell said some of his defensive players could have a role in his flexible offense.
“We’re not certain what it’s going to look like,” Norvell said. “We know there’s going to be some experiences that will probably show up along the way and force us to adapt and adjust.”
Starting with the first day of preseason camp.
The ACC released its revised schedules Thursday. FSU’s lone non-conference game is against Samford after previous matchups against West Virginia in Atlanta, at Boise State and against rival Florida became impossible under conferences’ rules.
FSU also said it expects attendance to be capped at 20-25 percent of the 79,560-seat Doak Campbell Stadium.
The Hurricanes kick off the ACC’s season on Thursday, Sept. 10 against Alabama-Birmingham. That wipes out a juicy non-conference matchup against Temple — the school Diaz briefly led before leaving for Miami.
Sept. 12: vs. Georgia Tech
Sept. 19: vs. Samford
Sept. 26: at Miami
Oct. 3: Open
Oct. 10: at Notre Dame
Oct. 17: vs. North Carolina
Oct. 24: at Louisville
Oct. 31: Open
Nov. 7: vs. Pitt
Nov. 14: at North Carolina State
Nov. 21: vs. Clemson
Nov. 28: vs. Virginia
Dec. 5: at Duke
Sept. 10 (Thursday): vs. UAB
Sept. 19: at Louisville
Sept. 26: vs. Florida State
Oct. 3: Open
Oct. 10: at Clemson
Oct. 17: vs. Pitt
Oct. 24: vs. Virginia
Oct. 31: Open
Nov. 6 (Friday): at North Carolina State
Nov. 14: at Virginia Tech
Nov. 21: vs. Georgia Tech
Nov. 28: at Wake Forest
Dec. 5: vs. North Carolina