When the coronavirus pandemic forced the N.F.L. to shutter its training facilities in March and ban all travel, thousands of players had to hunker down at home like the rest of us.
Instead of working out in gyms with teammates, they have been running at their old high school tracks and lifting weights in spare rooms. Players — including rookies joining the league — have met their coaches and trainers, but only via video conference. The N.F.L. has just started to reopen facilities, but there is no date for players to return.
The shutdown limbo, though, has had a silver lining for Reid and Blake Ferguson, brothers who are both N.F.L. long snappers. They have been living together for the first time since high school, in Reid’s suburban Atlanta townhouse, where they have leaned on each other during this complicated off-season, working to stay in top shape and prepare for the demands of training camp in the highly regimented N.F.L.
Reid, 26, is entering his fifth year as the long snapper for the Buffalo Bills, and Blake, 23, the only long snapper chosen in April’s draft, is prepping to join the Miami Dolphins. There are plenty of pairs of brothers in the N.F.L., but none sharing a position as unusual as long snapper.
The stay-at-home order has stretched the Fergusons’ relationship beyond brotherhood. In isolation, they are colleagues, competitors, training buddies and constant companions. They share meals, watch television, play hours of video games (FIFA 20 is their favorite), and visit their parents, who live about 20 minutes away.
They also work out, separately or together, in the garage and swap football war stories, some from their days at Louisiana State, where they both played. And they talk endlessly about the N.F.L., with Reid helping Blake adjust to his new life as a professional.
Before the pandemic, the brothers expected to bunk together only until early April, when Reid would have returned to the house he bought this year in Orchard Park, N.Y., where the Bills play, for off-season workouts. Blake assumed he would move to the city of the team that drafted him. Instead, the brothers have remained at Reid’s three-bedroom townhouse in Smyrna, Ga.
To avoid bumping into each other too often in the house, the Fergusons stagger their daily schedules. As a rookie, Blake usually has longer workdays because he has more video meetings with coaches and other members of his new team’s staff.
He usually heads to the garage at 7:30 a.m. to work out while Reid makes breakfast, which often includes pancakes. After his workout, Blake cooks four or five eggs with some turkey sausage, toast and Greek yogurt. While his brother eats, Reid has a brief call with some of his teammates to review their workouts for the day.
Then Blake heads upstairs to his bedroom to prepare for up to four hours of conferences with his coaches that start at 10 a.m. Though Reid and Blake talk often about football and their jobs as long snappers, they now play for A.F.C. East division rivals, so they have to tiptoe around the specifics of their teams’ game plans. Blake keeps the door closed when he’s in meetings, while Reid wears earbuds as he works downstairs in the living room.
“I have to be very cognizant of who I’m talking to,” Blake said. “I trust him to give me the best information possible. But I also have to ask very targeted questions so I’m not sharing information, because we are going to play each other twice a year now.”
Reid has explained to Blake the subtle differences in the position at the N.F.L. level, which include more blocking.
“I’ve tried to give him as much advice as I could, and teaching him as much about the mental as the physical,” Reid said. “At this level, everybody can play, but it takes someone who’s smart enough to stay and do it for a long time.”
Their workouts are largely the same, built primarily around stretching and body-weight exercises like squats. Like many other people under stay-at-home orders, they use their neighborhood to stay in shape by running sprints in the street.
After meetings and workouts, the brothers focus on their lives apart from each other. Blake is solidifying plans to move near the Dolphins’ team facility in Davie, Fla., when he can. Reid usually FaceTimes his fiancée, Erica Barber, at her home in Houston. On Fridays, he meets with a Bible study group hosted by the Bills’ team chaplain. For dinner, Reid will sometimes throw cheeseburgers and steak on the grill.
Football is rarely far from their minds for an extended period. Long snappers have a very narrow, but critical, job description: They must chuck a football backward through their legs, at 40 miles an hour, to a holder seven yards away or a punter 15 yards away, while bracing to block a rusher or preparing to run downfield to tackle a punt returner. With no margin for error, preparation counts.
On Saturdays, the brothers head to a football field at nearby Campbell High School to meet one of the Bills’ punters, Kaare Vedvik, 26. He used to drive two and a half hours from Birmingham, Ala., for these weekly sessions but then moved to a place closer to the Ferguson brothers. They are joined by the Bills’ newly drafted place-kicker, Tyler Bass, 23, who drives from South Carolina. For about two hours, they snap, hold and kick, just as they would at an N.F.L. training facility, except the Fergusons’ father, Kevin, 54, catches the balls and tosses them back to his sons.
Then the four players head back to Reid’s house to unwind with burgers or pizza and video games, and to prepare for another week of an off-season that, so far, has no end date.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have Reid,” Blake said. “Over the last eight years, we spent very little time together. To have a little of that time back was great.”