Most of the sports world has been quiet for the past three weeks.
That's what happens when the regular season for the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball all coincide with college and high school spring sports taking place. So when they all get cancelled, there is little to fall back on.
The one league which has remained essentially business as usual is the NFL since the Super Bowl took place on the first weekend in February and its next games aren't scheduled for the first week of September.
Since it was the middle of the off-season when the coronavirus pandemic struck down sports in the middle of March, the NFL did not alter much. Free agency began on time with big names now in new places — Tom Brady to Tampa Bay; Phillip Rivers to Indianapolis — and trades such as Houston sending DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona were allowed to take place.
In a couple of weeks the Draft will be held as originally scheduled, although it won't be live from Las Vegas but rather live from general managers' living rooms and basements.
For the most part teams have only had to tweak their approach. But some players, like Denison native Jordan Taylor, have had to do much more than that to try and find a spot on a roster.
Taylor is coming off an injury and he didn't play last season, so the social distancing and work-from-home mandates are the worst thing for a player who needs to travel to a team's facility for a workout and get checked out by the team's doctors.
“Coming off double hip surgery, coming off a year not playing, that's a disappointment for me. I'm anxious. I'm ready to play and I know I can,” said Taylor, who lives with his girlfriend in the Houston suburb of Spring. “It's a disadvantage because I can't show it right now. The best thing for me is to get in front of a team and show them I'm healthy.”
Taylor got an immediate taste of how things would be different. Less than a week after the COVID-19 outbreak shut down the other sports, he was supposed to be in Houston, where he played in college at Rice, for a workout with the Texans.
“The Texans reached out to me and my agent to set up a workout. It was going to be that Tuesday,” Taylor said. “They waited as long as they could. They stressed it was postponed and not cancelled so I'm staying hopeful for that.”
It has been an up-and-down career for Taylor, who turned 28 in February. After he graduated from Rice, he went undrafted in the spring of 2015 but signed with the Denver Broncos and earned a spot on their practice squad.
He rose to fame as the main workout partner for future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, who was rehabbing a foot injury and, earned a championship ring as the Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers, 24-10, in Super Bowl 50 that season.
The six-foot-five Taylor made the 53-man roster the following year and played in all 16 games with 16 catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns. In 2017, he had 13 catches for 142 yards in 10 games. He also saw time on special teams, including returning punts.
But the past two seasons he has not been able to get on the field. First, he had off-season surgery on both hips, a procedure that sidelined him for 10 months and kept him on injured reserve for the whole 2018 campaign.
Denver didn't extend an offer to him when he became a restricted free agent and after a visit with the Seattle Seahawks, he signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings almost exactly one year ago. Minnesota released him near the end of training camp after he finished the preseason with three catches for 24 yards and he wasn't able to catch on with another team.
“They drafted a few guys. I didn't get a look on special teams,” Taylor said. “I could tell early on it probably wasn't going to happen with the Vikings. Then it went silent on the radar.”
The Colts and Chargers made inquiries but it didn't go further than that. The interest by the Texans was the next to come from an NFL franchise but Taylor was being looked at by others.
“I had three of the XFL teams ask to enter the draft to be eligible. I'm not sure if they would have drafted me. There were some CFL teams that wanted to know about going up there,” Taylor said. “I was trying to weigh the risk of getting hurt. If I'm going to play, it's going to be in the NFL. And if my career ends up being over, I'm okay with that because of what I was able to do.”
And so now he has to impress prospective employers without being able to conduct a proper job interview. Taylor knew there would be obstacles on his way back into the league, but this was certainly not one he saw coming.
“They want to see me and make sure I'm healthy and go through drills,” Taylor said. “There's a lot of guys like me just kinda waiting.”
It helps that he has an all-time great who can vouch for him as well as a respected coach in the league like Gary Kubiak, who is now the offensive coordinator in Minnesota, willing to go to bat for him. When a Pro Bowl quarterback like Kirk Cousins tells the team website that “He's a diamond in the rough. He's got some stuff to him. Not only does he have some juice, but he's been on the details. If a route calls for him to get to 14 yards, he gets to 14, he doesn't get to 13. If it's a double move, he runs a double move with the right technique. He gets to the right spot and catches the football when it's a tough catch," then it can only adds to a resume.
Taylor understands that he has to prove his worth and stay healthy. The problem is there may not be many chances before the season begins. Organized Team Activities will almost certainly be cancelled. Training camp will most likely be shortened.
“Say things are ready by training camp. I'd still have to learn a whole new offense. I didn't have OTAs to study the playbook, get in a groove,” Taylor said. “That's two-and-a-half months that I could have been using.”
Taylor is one of five Yellow Jackets to make it to the NFL and has the most games played among a group that includes Shad Criss (2000), Fred Washington (1990), Mike Barnes (1967-68) and Barnes Milam (1934).
He was a three-year starter at Denison but the only time he played receiver was during his sophomore season, when he had 29 catches for 567 yards and 11 touchdowns. He switched to quarterback for the final two years and went 25-3 as the Jackets reached the region semifinals in 2008 and the state semifinals in 2009.
Taylor is the Jackets' all-time leader in passing yards (3,729) and touchdown passes (40) to go with 2,509 rushing yards (ninth all-time) and 39 TDs on the ground (6th all-time) and was a two-time honorable mention all-state selection.
He then signed with Rice and finished his college career with 172 catches for 2,513 yards and 19 touchdowns.