For a second straight day, we woke up to good news on the COVID front for the Titans as Paul Kuharsky passed along reports of no new positive tests from Monday’s round of testing.
That’s another huge step towards the team returning to play this weekend. Consecutive days of negative tests give the Titans a chance to open their facilities again for the first time since the outbreak started one week ago today.
If the team does get clearance from the league to have the healthy players and coaches return to practice on Wednesday, that will give Mike Vrabel a normal practice schedule heading into their Week 5 clash with the undefeated Bills (at least as normal as a practice can be without 10 personnel members — including some coaches — and 11 players).
We should get news later today confirming whether or not the Titans officially are back on Wednesday, but I suspect they will be.
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 officially been on the COVID list for 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.
Jackson’s return is particularly critical this week as the Titans get set to take on the Bills duo of Stefon Diggs and John Brown, two of the best vertical receivers in the league with speed to burn. This is not the game for a 95% snap share for Johnathan Joseph.
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.