Lions in enhanced COVID protocols, have no new positive tests
Allen Park — With nine COVID cases in the past nine days, the Detroit Lions are one of seven teams around the NFL in enhanced protocols, which requires increased (daily) testing for all players and personnel, including those who are vaccinated, mandatory masking indoors for all individuals and an increased emphasis on social distancing.
Fortunately for the Lions, they were already ahead of the curve on many of those requirements due to a flu outbreak that ripped through the roster last week.
"We still meet in the bubble (indoor practice field)," Lions coach Dan Campbell said. "... We’ve been doing that all year and we’ve been spaced out and we’ve been to where we’re trying to get where our trackers are far enough apart."
After adding two more names to the COVID-reserve list this week — practice squad cornerbacks Corey Ballentine and Nickell Robey-Coleman — Campbell noted the team had no new positive cases on Wednesday as they start the week of practice for Sunday's matchup with the NFC-leading Arizona Cardinals.
"There is concern, but there is nothing (more) we can do about it," he said. "We’re doing all we can do to prepare for a game. You guys know COVID and football don’t go together. As far as how everybody is dealing with it, we do the best we can with it and we’re trying to keep our guys as safe as possible, but also prepare. We’re trying to be as smart as we can about it."
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The Lions are actually getting a player off the COVID list on Wednesday, with center Evan Brown returning to practice. He missed last week's game after testing positive for COVID last Monday.
With Brown out of the lineup, the Lions turned to third-string, undrafted rookie Ryan McCollum in last Sunday's matchup against the Broncos. He struggled in his debut, allowing a sack and four total quarterback pressures. For comparison, Brown has allowed five pressures in nine games, filling in for Pro Bowl starter Frank Ragnow, who was lost to a season-ending toe injury in Week 4.
Also returning to practice on Wednesday is rookie nickel cornerback AJ Parker, who has spent the past three weeks on injured reserve with a sprained ankle.
Campbell said he anticipates both Brown and Parker to play Sunday against the Cardinals.
The return of Parker might be more imperative than Brown. Detroit's secondary has been decimated by COVID and Jerry Jacobs' season-ending ACL injury.
In addition to Ballentine and Robey-Coleman, who were both elevated off the practice squad and played last Sunday against the Broncos, safety Tracy Walker and cornerbacks Ifeatu Melifonwu, Bobby Price and Mark Gilbert remain on the COVID list.
In the first nine games this season, Parker played 366 defensive snaps. While he's been sidelined, safety Will Harris has been filling the slot corner role.
To further bolster the team's depth in the secondary, the Lions claimed two defensive backs off waivers the past two days, safety Brady Breeze and cornerback Saivon Smith.
"Anybody looking at our situation, you’d love to come in here because you’re getting the opportunity, whether by injury or now what we’re going through here (with COVID)," Campbell said. "... You may be thrusted into a role immediately, some of these guys are. Let’s get them up to speed and give them a chance to have some success and then evaluate off of that and see where they go."
In addition to the COVID cases, the Lions are still battling through a number of injuries to keep contributors. Among those still not practicing on Wednesday were running back D'Andre Swift and tight end T.J. Hockenson, the team's top two offensive weapons.
"If we feel like we can get them back by Friday or something, certainly we’d love to have them," Campbell said. "Right now, it’s still pretty early."
Swift has missed the past two games with a shoulder injury, while Hockenson sat out against the Broncos with a hand injury.
With both sidelined, the Lions offense mustered just 10 points in Denver. They're going to have to find a way to do much better than that against Arizona, which ranks sixth in the league in scoring (27.9 points per game), despite quarterback and MVP candidate Kyler Murray missing three games this season.