- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2021

ASHBURN — Ron Rivera could only guess how his team’s virus outbreak started, but guessing would only do so much. With days until Sunday’s pivotal matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington faces this reality: 18 of the team’s players are now on the league’s COVID-19 list, after another eight were placed on the list Wednesday.

All of the positive tests have come within the last week.

“I don’t think anybody expected it to be like this,” Rivera said. “This is a little bit more than beyond what we anticipated.”

Washington is one of seven teams in the NFL’s enhanced protocols — which means teams have to conduct meetings remotely, wear masks at practice and inside the facility and take other measures to combat the spread of the virus. The Burgundy and Gold’s 18 players on the reserve list are believed to be tied for the most in the league with the Cleveland Browns.

Despite the circumstances, Rivera said the team has heard nothing about a possible postponement of Sunday’s game — putting Washington in a tough spot ahead of a crucial contest with playoff positioning on the line.

On Wednesday, quarterback Kyle Allen and defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis headlined the list of eight names added to the list. The absence of Allen and Ioannidis on Sunday would be particularly impactful, since starter Taylor Heinicke (elbow, knee) is banged up and the defensive line has been decimated by injuries and the virus.

Heinicke, though, is on track to play Sunday after being a full participant in practice.

Of the 18 unavailable players on the reserve list, seven — including star Jonathan Allen — fall along the defensive line. Rivera said he was unsure if any of them will be cleared in time for Sunday’s game. Vaccinated players who have tested positive can return as soon as they can produce a negative result twice within 24 hours apart and receive medical clearance.

“It’s crazy, but as you look at the news, a lot of teams are going through that,” guard Brandon Scherff said. “It’s just things we’ve got to work with. We knew it was a possibility for us. With COVID, you know how fast it can spread. … That’s just the nature of the game right now.”

Washington has now had at least one player test positive daily since last Friday. The team’s first case of this recent spell began when edge rusher Montez Sweat tested positive last Wednesday. Rivera said it is not known how the outbreak started, or what variant the team is dealing with.

Washington was the first team in the NFL to have a confirmed case of the omicron variant, but the staff member who tested positive was not involved on the football side of the team.

The virus has left the Burgundy and Gold depleted at multiple spots. The defensive line, for instance, has just five players left on the 53-man roster and another three on the practice squad. Of that group, only Daron Payne was a Week 1 starter.

Wide receiver is another position suddenly thin. Cam Sims was added to the reserve list Wednesday, while the team practiced without Terry McLaurin (concussion) and Curtis Samuel (hamstring). Rivera said Samuel came into the facility Monday with a sore hamstring, a different injury than the nagging groin that sidelined him for months.

The team is also down to just two healthy tight ends in Ricky Seals-Jones and John Bates with Temmarick Hemingway (COVID), Sammis Reyes (COVID) and Logan Thomas (ACL) out.

Even special teams will look dramatically different as significant contributors Troy Apke and David Mayo are now sidelined with the virus. 
Washington will look to fill those positions with backups already on the roster, as well as by promoting practice squad players and signing free agents. After Kyle Allen tested positive Wednesday, the team signed quarterback Jordan Ta’amu to the practice squad.

As for Heinicke, the quarterback said his elbow is bothering him more than his knee. But the quarterback said he was able to throw without pain during the team’s afternoon walk-through, adding he should be good to go against the Eagles.

“We’ve dealt with adversity all year this year,” Heinicke said. “We’ve had guys go down and step up. It’s just furthermore for this week. We have confidence in all our guys and we coach all our guys up, whether it’s players or coaches. We feel comfortable with who we got.”

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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