ASHBURN, Va. — The Washington Football Team, already impacted by injuries, continues to add players to the reserve/COVID-19 list at a time when it can least afford to lose players.
Washington has placed 14 players on the COVID list this week — including eight on Wednesday — bringing its total to 18 as it prepares to play the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Both teams are 6-7, with Washington owning the seventh and final playoff spot with four games remaining. Coach Ron Rivera said he has not heard any discussions about possibly canceling the game.
Of those 18 players, nine were possible starters Sunday. Washington also has 13 players on injured reserve — two players are on both lists — leaving them having to piecemeal a lineup for a game that impacts their playoff fate.
“We’re in meetings and one of the guys told me someone else had it, it’s like, ‘Here’s another one; there’s another one,'” Washington guard Brandon Scherff said. “Like coach [Ron] Rivera said, ‘Next man up.’ It’s a big opportunity for them to show everyone what they’ve got.”
Washington’s strength has been its defensive line, but as of now that group has been decimated. Of their top six linemen on the active roster, five are on the COVID list; only tackle Daron Payne remains fine.
Another lineman, end Montez Sweat, also is on the list but remains on injured reserve with a fractured jaw. Sweat would have played last week had he not tested positive for the coronavirus. He’s eligible to come off the list Saturday, but that would require him to then play in a game for the first time since Oct. 31 without the benefit of a practice.
Several players could come off the list later this week, including defensive ends James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill, both of whom missed Sunday’s loss to Dallas. Defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Tim Settle also could come off the list. All four players must test negative twice in a 48-hour span to return. At least some of those players, including Allen and Settle, had not shown symptoms as of Tuesday night.
Rivera said he’s not concerned for himself, despite the high number of positives. Rivera, who battled cancer last year, said in August that he was immunocompromised and was frustrated at the time with the pace of his players getting vaccinated.
But he said he already has received his booster shot and wears a mask when in a crowd or around other people. He also said the current situation goes well beyond what they anticipated.
“Nobody expected this [Omicron] variant,” Rivera said. “Because it’s spreading so quickly around the league right now, that almost feels like a matter of time. I don’t think anybody expected it to be like this. Our thought might be that guys that hadn’t gotten vaccinated might have come down with it at some point or another, not that it would be a crossover.”
Rivera said he did not know for sure if the players testing positive indeed have the new variant. Rather, he said, he was just speculating as to which one they might have, given the rapid spread.
Washington only has two healthy tight ends on the roster — Ricky Seals-Jones and rookie John Bates. Its top corner, Kendall Fuller, will miss Sunday because after being placed on the COVID list. Key offensive players, receiver Terry McLaurin and running back J.D. McKissic, both are in the concussion protocol.
If McLaurin can’t play, his replacement, Cam Sims, likely will be unable to as well. He was placed on the COVID list Wednesday. Receiver Curtis Samuel, who has been limited in his return the past three games after battling a groin injury, did not practice because of an issue with his hamstring.
“We’ve dealt with adversity all year,” Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke said. “We’ve had guys go down and step up and play; it’s just more for this week. We have confidence in all our guys. It should be an interesting one Sunday, but I feel good about it.”
Rivera said they focus hard on teaching during the walk-through sessions to get new players caught up. But Washington harped on line depth on both sides of the ball for a situation where injuries ravaged other areas. They should have four of their original five offensive linemen available.
“You take every able body you have and they all get opportunities to practice, get opportunities in meetings and walk-throughs to make sure they’re brought up to speed,” Rivera said.
And then they have to hope others don’t test positive later in the week.
“I got vaccinated so I trust the vaccine,” said rookie defensive end Shaka Toney, who as of now, would make his second consecutive start Sunday. “I’ve seen guys come back fast from being vaccinated and their symptoms are perfectly normal. I won’t say I’m not worried, but I trust my body; I have a good diet, I got vaccinated; I did the booster shot. You can’t live life with fear. I will follow all the precautions and do my best to stay available.”