INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts’ defense took a major hit Wednesday with tackle DeForest Buckner being placed on the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list.
It’s uncertain whether Buckner tested positive for the coronavirus or came into close contact with someone who did. Either way, the protocol will force him to miss Sunday’s AFC South rematch with the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium.
A player considered a high-risk close contact must remain on the COVID list for five days. That was the case with linebacker Matthew Adams. He was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Nov. 11, missed the first meeting the next day with the Tennessee Titans and returned to the active roster Nov. 16.
However, a player who tests positive but is asymptomatic is out 10 days, while a player who tests positive and displays symptoms is sidelined 14 days.
Buckner’s situation is compounded by the continued absence of another defensive line standout: Denico Autry. Autry missed last Sunday’s win over Green Bay after testing positive and being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Friday.
It’s possible Autry could be cleared for the Titans game, but coach Frank Reich was unable to provide an update Wednesday. Earlier in the week, he mentioned if Autry was asymptomatic, the 10-day window would make him “technically available.’’
The significance of Buckner’s loss can’t be overstated.
Since being acquired in a March 16 trade with San Francisco – general manager Chris Ballard sent the 49ers the 13th overall pick in the April draft and then signed Buckner to an $84 million extension – he has been instrumental in the defense becoming one of the NFL’s best.
Buckner has piled up 41 tackles, including four for a loss, 2.5 sacks and a team-high 16 quarterback hits. He registered a safety against the Minnesota Vikings with an end-zone sack of Kirk Cousins and came up with a fumble recovery on the second play of overtime in Sunday’s win over Green Bay.
His interior presence has impacted the play of his teammates. Autry has a team-high 6 sacks and Justin Houston has 4.5 sacks and eight quarterback hits. Also, tackle Grover Stewart is in the midst of his best season with 36 tackles, including four for a loss.
With Buckner out, it’s possible coordinator Matt Eberflus will move Tyquan Lewis from end to the 3-technique. Al-Quadin Muhammad replaced Autry in the starting lineup against the Packers.
Long injury list
Reich declined to address the Colts’ Wednesday injury report during his conference call, which occurred several hours before the list was released.
“The list is long so I’m not going to go into it player-by-player,’’ he said. “It’s just a little longer than normal. I’ll just defer to the injury report.’’
Reich was right.
Nine players did not practice, including quarterback Philip Rivers (toe).
The others: safety Julian Blackmon (illness), cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (illness), center Ryan Kelly (neck), guard Quenton Nelson (back/ankle), linebackers Bobby Okereke (ankle) and Anthony Walker (ribs), safety Khari Willis (ribs/shoulder), wideout Zach Pascal (knee/foot) and defensive end Justin Houston (not injury related).
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.