Frank Reich: Only matter of time before COVID-19 impacted Colts

Indianapolis Colts

INDIANAPOLIS – It was only a matter of time, and that time is now.

In the span of six days, the Indianapolis Colts have seen 20% of their active roster – 12 of 53 players, plus two more on the practice squad – placed on the NFL’s COVID-19 list, presumably with positive tests. The team had been virus-free during the regular season until center Ryan Kelly (Dec. 4) and linebacker Zaire Franklin (Dec. 13) were placed on the COVID-19 list.

But the clock was ticking, and it seemed to be ticking a bit louder in the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center than in other NFL markets since the Colts are one of the league’s least vaccinated teams.

Coach Frank Reich acknowledged the Colts are “obviously below the midline’’ in unvaccinated players.

“Yet we were one of the last teams to have somebody test positive,’’ he said Monday afternoon. “I think we were showing that our players, our organization were doing a lot of things right.’’

Tick, tick, tick.

“At some level,’’ Reich admitted, “you feel it’s going to catch up to you eventually. Not just the vaccinated/unvaccinated question, but just in general with how ramped up it seems, and it’s just unfortunate for everybody.’’

A quick recap on the COVID-19 list additions:

  • Dec. 22: Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, defensive end Kemoko Turay and practice squad tight end Farrod Green.
  • Dec. 23: Guard Mark Glowkinski.
  • Dec. 24: Guard Quenton Nelson.
  • Dec. 25 (prior to the Arizona game): Linebacker Darius Leonard, wideout Zach Pascal and safety Khari Willis.
  • Monday: Right tackle Braden Smith, cornerback T.J. Carrie, running back Marlon Mack, safety Jahleel Addae, linebacker Malik Jefferson and practice squad cornerback Chris Wilcox.

Under current NFL guidelines, an unvaccinated player who tests positive must miss at least 10 days before returning; in late August, Nelson, Leonard and Pascal were among the Colts’ unvaccinated players. A vaccinated player may return as soon as he registers two negative tests 24 hours apart or the viral load in his body falls below a certain threshold.

Franklin, for instance, was placed on the COVID-19 list Dec. 13, but soon thereafter tested negative and played in the Dec. 18 game against the New England Patriots.

However, the NFL protocol might soon change in the wake of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) altering isolation restrictions from 10 days to five days for individuals who test positive.

According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, the NFL and NFLPA already are in discussions aimed at aligning the league’s protocols with the CDC’s.

That might bode well for the Colts.

Prior to the CDC news, Reich anticipated getting a few players back for Sunday’s meeting with the Las Vegas Raiders at Lucas Oil Stadium, but declined to elaborate. The current 10-day window involving unvaccinated players would indicate Nelson, Leonard and Pascal would be among those missing that game as well.

First and foremost, Reich’s concerns – everyone’s concerns – are with the infected individuals and those around them.

From a team standpoint, it’s about dealing with whatever adversity surfaces during a long season. It might be an injury to a significant player.

It might be COVID-19.

“This is what we prepare for, for hitting adversity, things you don’t expect,’’ Reich said. “But this is probably in the category of something that we could expect and that it would just be a matter of time before it was going to hit us.

“We can’t allow this to be a distraction. Understand how important it is and let’s just stay focused on what we have to do.’’

That was the case in Saturday night’s 22-16 win over the Arizona Cardinals in Glendale. With the game-day COVID-19 additions, the Colts were without seven front-line players. Also, Kelly would miss a second straight game due to his family issue and safety Andrew Sendejo was out with a concussion.

“It was great for our team to overcome this,’’ Reich said. “You know, just the fortitude, the mental toughness, the bond that brings you together. How do you overcome this? We’ve got to do it together. We’ve got to believe in each other.

“Really, really happy with how the team responded.’’

Ryan Kelly update

Reich spoke with Ryan Kelly Monday and anticipates his Pro Bowl center returning to the team this week. Kelly has missed the last two games while he and wife Emma mourn the passing of infant daughter Mary Kate.

“It seemed like he was doing well, all things considered,’’ Reich said. “Still going through that process.

“I was encouraged talking to him. I think we can anticipate him being back in the building this week. As we know, something like this is an ongoing process. It doesn’t go away.

“We’ll continue to give him and Emma the support that they need.’’

Injury update

The status of left tackle Eric Fisher and tight end Jack Doyle for the Raiders game remains uncertain.

Fisher is dealing with knee, toe and pectoral injuries sustained in the Cardinals game while Doyle exited the game on the Colts’ second offensive play with injuries to knee and ankle.

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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