For the first time in a week, we aren’t starting the day here at Broadway Sports writing about positive COVID tests for the Titans. Ian Rapoport passed along the news this morning as the results of Sunday’s tests came back clean for Tennessee.
First, it’s a relief that no one else has gotten sick on a personal level. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the football angles to this story, but it’s important to remember that we also have 20 members of the Nashville community that are dealing with a nasty virus and our thoughts are with all of them.
This is also huge news from a football perspective though. It has been reported over the last few days that the NFL wanted to see consecutive days with no positive tests from the Titans before they would allow them to re-open their facilities and return to practice in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Bills.
If tomorrow’s results come back with no new positives, that would mean Tennessee likely gets to have a “normal” week of preparation for Buffalo: practice Wednesday-Thursday-Friday with a walk-through on Saturday before a Sunday game.
Who is on the reserve/COVID list?
The Titans currently have 11 total players on the reserve/COVID list:
- LS Beau Brinkley
- OLB Kamalei Correa
- CB Kristian Fulton
- WR Adam Humphries
- DL DaQuan Jones
- DL Jeffery Simmons
- OL Isaiah Wilson
- WR Cameron Batson*
- TE Tommy Hudson*
- CB Greg Mabin*
They also have had 10 team personnel members test positive. Based on reports, we know that there are coaches included in that number beyond the one name we know out of this group: outside linebackers coach and defensive playcaller Shane Bowen.
We should note that Isaiah Wilson has been on the COVID list for nearly a month now and is not included in this outbreak. It was sounding like he was nearing a return prior to the facility getting shut down last week.
When can infected players return?
I wrote at length about the return to play protocols that were agreed upon by the NFL and NFL Players Association last week and you can read that here. Essentially, the big variable is the presence of symptoms. Some people who get COVID-19 never demonstrate any actual symptoms — one of the reasons the virus has been so hard to track — and the players that fall into that category can return to practice once they pass three hurdles:
- At least five days have passed since initial positive test.
- Player produces two consecutive negative tests at least 24 hours apart.
- Receive clearance from the team’s head physician.
The players that fall into the asymptomatic category would all have a chance to play against the Bills — even fullback Khari Blasingame, who tested positive on Saturday (reported on Sunday) — if they can clear the virus from their system. Of course, five days is the minimum so do not assume that asymptomatic means an automatic five-day return.
Players that do show symptoms have a longer road to return. Those players must clear all of the following criteria to return to the facilities:
- At least ten days have passed since symptoms appeared.
- At least 72 hours have passed since player last experience symptoms.
- Approval from team’s head physician.
And after returning to the facilities, players who exhibit symptoms must then pass through additional cardiac screening and a minimum three-day progressive exercise protocol before getting cleared to participate in a game.
That means that players with symptomatic cases will require at least 13 days to pass from the time they initially begin showing symptoms and their first game back. In some cases, symptoms do not show up until after a positive test so it’s entirely possible that we see players miss up to three or four weeks of action depending on timing of the positive test and when symptoms appear.
We do not know how many of the ten recent cases are symptomatic versus asymptomatic and we likely will not know until guys start getting activated from the reserve/COVID list. We could see a few guys get added back onto the roster in time to play against Buffalo, but there is also a pretty decent chance that the Titans are without all ten. It’s simply impossible to project.
What does the roster look like without those guys?
Any time you lose ten players off your roster, it’s a test of depth, but this isn’t that much different than a team playing with a rash of injuries like the 49ers and Eagles have experienced early in the season. Seven of the ten are members of the 53-man roster, though Batson had been active each of the last two weeks.
Here are the positions that were hardest hit and who will need to step up to pitch in.
The hardest hit position group is clearly defensive line, where Jeffery Simmons — who was in the middle of breaking out as an absolute superstar — and DaQuan Jones were already playing a ton of snaps and the team was suffering a pretty big drop off in performance when they left the game. The Titans remaining defensive linemen are Jack Crawford, Larrell Murchison, Isaiah Mack, and Matt Dickerson. They also have Teair Tart on the practice squad.
The next biggest loss is Adam Humphries. The Titans starting slot receiver was having a really nice year with 15 catches (tied for the team high with Corey Davis) for 136 yards and a touchdown through three games. The expected return of A.J. Brown does a lot to offset that loss, but Humphries is a valuable chain mover and an extremely reliable target for Ryan Tannehill.
Batson is the Titans WR5, but he would have been a natural option to replace Humphries so his loss hurts a little more than it otherwise might have. Brown, Davis, and Kalif Raymond will be doing the heavy lifting at wide receiver with those guys out and I’d expect to see quite a bit of tight end Anthony Firkser in the slot too.
Kristian Fulton being a part of this hurts. He was playing really well in a limited role and I was hopeful that we would get to see more of him soon, but that progression is likely to be delayed now. The potential return of Adoree’ Jackson would be a huge development here as the Titans would be just fine with a trio of Jackson, Malcolm Butler, and Johnathan Joseph on the back end.
This will be interesting to watch. If Brinkley is going to be out for Buffalo, it will be the first time he’s missed a game since he arrived in Tennessee in 2012. The Titans would need to sign a long snapper to replace him.
The biggest worry here is field goal kicking, in my opinion. The timing of the snap, hold, and kick are so critical to the whole operation. The Titans have had the same snapper and holder (Brett Kern) since 2012. Hopefully a change in snapper will not disrupt the groove that Stephen Gostkowski is currently in.
The biggest thing is waiting to see what happens with today’s round of testing. The results will be reported tomorrow and if it is a second straight day of “all clear”, the Titans could be approved to return to work.
There are also some roster moves that could be made and that might tell us something about the expected availability of players. The reserve/COVID list, like IR, does not count towards the 53-man active roster. That means that the Titans currently have six open roster spots available to be filled.
Jon Robinson could simply promote some guys off the practice squad to fill those spots, but that would open some practice squad spots as well. It probably doesn’t make sense to sign new players if the team believes several of these guys will be back for the Bills game, but if they’re expecting longer absences, they will likely try to fill those spots (though it is fair to wonder how many free agents might want to come join Team COVID right now).
Damon “Snacks” Harrison is the big name that obviously jumps to mind. The former All-Pro nose tackle would likely be able to help fill in the gaps left by Simmons and Jones if those two are expected to miss time and he’d be a help to the leaky Titans run defense even after those two come back.
We also should be keeping an eye on the investigation that the NFL and NFLPA are currently pursuing with the Titans situation. If the league finds Tennessee to be lacking in their adherence to the COVID guidelines, they could choose to hammer the franchise with fines, suspensions, or even loss of draft picks.
However, for now, we can all breathe a sigh of relief for a day and embrace some hope for Titans-Bills being played as scheduled on Sunday.