Detroit Lions enter enhanced COVID-19 protocols: ‘COVID and football don’t go together’

Detroit Free Press

As COVID-19 cases spike across the NFL, the Detroit Lions are returning to practice as normal.

The Lions held their second full-team practice in 12 days on Wednesday, the same day the NFL placed the organization in enhanced COVID protocols.

Lions coach Dan Campbell said having a normal practice schedule was essential for players, even as they face more restrictions around the team facility.

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“We thought about every scenario, but I know that there’s a fine line,” Campbell said. “I mean, we need the work. We got a lot of new faces that need looks and you’re going to fight that balance between do you have a roster to play a game, but also preparing them and making it fair for them to go in there and prepare properly to play a game.”

The Lions operated under their own enhanced protocols last week to contain a flu outbreak that impacted more than a dozen players and as seven COVID cases infected the team. They held split-squad walk-throughs on Wednesday and a seven-on-seven practice Thursday, then practiced together in full Friday before getting blown out by the Denver Broncos, 38-10.

Under the NFL’s enhanced protocols, both vaccinated and unvaccinated players must wear masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines around the team facility.

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The Lions have been holding socially-distanced meetings all season, including full-team meetings on their indoor practice field.

The Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota Vikings and Washington Football Team also are in enhanced protocols, according to ESPN.

The Browns placed quarterback Baker Mayfield and five others on the reserve/COVID list Wednesday, and coach Kevin Stefanski reportedly tested positive for the virus.

Campbell said there are “no issues” with COVID on the Lions’ staff, and he said he does not plan on taking extra precautions to ensure quarterback Jared Goff makes it to Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.

“I think if you really want to make sure you have a roster that can go out and you can just suit up a roster, you just don’t bring them in at all and you just virtually do a practice at their home and they’re actually — and I hadn’t figured that technology out yet where each individual is at their home practicing as a unit,” he said. “Honestly that’s the only way to if you want to just be as safe as possible and you don’t even bring them in, and that’s unrealistic in our sport.”

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The Lions activated center Evan Brown of the reserve/COVID list Wednesday, but remain without eight players because of the virus: Running back Jamaal Williams, safety Tracy Walker, linebacker Tavante Beckett and cornerbacks Bobby Price, Mark Gilbert, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Nickell Robey-Coleman and Corey Ballentine.

Robey-Coleman, Ballentine and Beckett are on the practice squad reserve/COVID list.

The Lions have two healthy cornerbacks on their 53-man roster, Amani Oruwariye and Saivion Smith, who they claimed off waivers Tuesday from the San Francisco 49ers. Rookie slot cornerback A.J. Parker returned to practice Wednesday from injured reserve and is expected to play this week.

Campbell said he is concerned about the rise in COVID cases across the NFL, where at least 65 players have tested positive since Monday. Most of those players, including a “very high number” of the Lions’ COVID positives, have been vaccinated.

NFL Network reported the league is considering altering its COVID protocols for vaccinated players who test positive for the virus but are asymptomatic.

Currently, players who test positive must miss a minimum of 10 days, though vaccinated players can return earlier if they produce two positive tests 24 hours apart.

Asked if there was a better way to handle COVID positive cases, Campbell said, “You’re asking the wrong guy,” but added, “I’m sure there’s a better way.”

“We’re doing all we can do to prepare for a game,” he said. “You guys know COVID and football don’t go together, so as far as how everybody’s 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.”

Injury update

Running back D’Andre Swift and tight end T.J. Hockenson were among six players who missed practice Wednesday.

“If we feel like we can get them back by Friday or something, certainly we’d love to have them,” Campbell said. “But right now it’s still pretty early.”

Swift has missed two straight games with a shoulder injury, while Hockenson did not play against the Broncos because of a hand injury.

Safety Jalen Elliott (not injury related), linebackers Alex Anzalone (ankle) and Julian Okwara (ankle), and offensive lineman Jonah Jackson (back) missed practice Wednesday.

Linbacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (shoulder) returned on a limited basis in a red no-contact jersey.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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