The Detroit Lions‘ first win came at a price.
The Lions had three more players test positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, bringing the total number of COVID cases to seven in the six days since their 29-27 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
The Lions placed cornerbacks Ifeatu Melifonwu and Mark Gilbert on the reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday, and placed linebacker Tavante Beckett on practice squad COVID-IR.
On Monday, the Lions placed center Evan Brown on reserve/COVID. On Thursday, cornerback Bobby Price joined Brown on the list. And Friday, the Lions placed safety Tracy Walker and running back Jamaal Williams on reserve/COVID.
The Lions, who previously declared three players out (and a fourth doubtful) because of injuries for Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos, will be without at least 19% of their 53-man roster because of injury or illness for the game.
The Lions elevate six COVID replacements from their practice squad for the affected players – cornerbacks Nickell Robey-Coleman and Corey Ballentine, linebacker Curtis Bolton, tight end Shane Zylstra, running back Craig Reynolds and defensive tackle Bruce Hector – but Sunday’s game could have a distinct preseason feel.
Walker, Williams, Brown and Melifonwu were expected to play significant roles Sunday, and the Lions are down to two healthy cornerbacks, starters Amani Oruwariye and Jerry Jacobs, on their 53-man roster.
Williams was ticketed for starting running back duties with D’Andre Swift out for a second straight week with a shoulder injury. Godwin Igwebuike and Jermar Jefferson are expected to share the workload in his absence, with Reynolds also in the mix.
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Ryan McCollum is expected to make his first career start at center in place of Brown, himself an injury replacement for Frank Ragnow.
Dean Marlowe will replace Walker, the Lions’ best defensive back this season, at safety.
And the Lions have options on their 53-man roster (Will Harris, with C.J. Moore or Jalen Elliott playing safety in sub packages) and practice squad (Robey-Coleman, Ballentine and Parnell Motley) to help their depleted cornerback corps.
The Lions (1-10-1) reconfigured practice this week to account for an illness outbreak that coach Dan Campbell said Wednesday was not COVID related.
On Wednesday, the Lions practiced in shifts, with the offense working in the morning and the defense in the afternoon, so as to avoid spread between position groups.
On Thursday, the Lions held 21 players out of practice, bringing McCollum and offensive skill players in for an afternoon workout and sending linemen on both sides of the ball home early.
The Lions held a normal practice Friday, but listed 12 players on their injury report with an illness other than COVID. Neither Melifonwu nor Gilbert was among that group.
Ten players were listed as questionable due to an illness, including Alim McNeill, Levi Onwuzurike and Charles Harris, who did not practice Friday.
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said by email Saturday the league has no plans to investigate the Lions’ COVID spread “beyond the standard genomic sequencing” the league does to determine where cases originate.
In general, McCarthy said most cases around the NFL have been the result of community spread.