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Packers still 'good to go' after Texans player tests positive

Jim Owczarski
Packers News

GREEN BAY - Through six games, the Green Bay Packers have practiced and played under the specter of the coronavirus pandemic but have remained untouched by it.

The Tennessee Titans experienced an outbreak and had a game postponed, but their scheduled date at Lambeau Field in late December was not affected. The Atlanta Falcons had a player test positive for COVID-19, but it happened two weeks before they headed to Green Bay.

But now, the Packers are on the alert as Green Bay native and Houston Texans offensive lineman Max Scharping tested positive Tuesday and was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, per the Houston Chronicle. As a result, the Texans shut down their facilities.

Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur gestures during the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Tampa, Fla.

Scharping played five snaps on special teams in the Packers’ 35-20 victory.

“We can’t control much about the team that we're playing,” Packers wide receiver Davante Adams said. “If they have cases and we play them, obviously that’s a tough spot. But, getting tested every day obviously helps a little bit with the, mentally with, just knowing that they’ll be on top of it as fast as possible. And then yeah, we basically, I feel like my teammates do a good job of being smart, making sure that they’re not out there putting the team and their families and their self in jeopardy. So, we take care of our business here, so it’s just about, you know, hopefully getting lucky each week with playing other teams and hoping that nobody contracts anything from them.”

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said director of security/risk management Doug Collins and head athletic trainer Bryan Engel immediately got in touch with the league about what, if anything, the Packers needed to do outside of their own daily testing regimen.

“My understanding is there’s nothing that really we can do,” LaFleur said Wednesday. “The league feels that we’ve done everything we can do and that we’re safe. So, that’s what’s most important and, you know, I think our guys have done such a great job of just handling, in particular, living in this area, just doing a great job of taking the protective measures to stay away from it. So, but, from all indications that I’ve gotten is that we’re good to go here.”

If there are positive tests on the Packers in the coming week that are contact traced back to the Texans game, it could have wide-ranging implications for the NFL.

If that were to be the case, it would be the first instance of transmission during a game. And, if the game against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday were to be postponed it could be the first one that needs to be pushed to a Week 18.

Unlike the flurry of rescheduled games the NFL has had to manage to date, much of that was aided by moving bye weeks and playing games during the week. The Packers, however, do not have a bye and they cannot have the game postponed until Monday or Tuesday because they are scheduled to fly for a Thursday night game at the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 5.

The Vikings also do not have an easy window in which to move. They also do not have a bye week and are scheduled to play Detroit on Nov. 8 and at Chicago on Nov. 16.

Of course, even if there were several positive tests the Packers could play as scheduled Sunday. Las Vegas had its offensive line held out of the facility for an entire practice week due to a positive test in their room, but the league kept the game against Tampa Bay as scheduled. Four of the offensive linemen were taken off the list Saturday, and the Buccaneers won the next day 45-20.

Lazard, Kirksey return to practice

The Packers are a banged-up team, and LaFleur has changed up his practice week to help accommodate some of those injuries, but he said wide receiver Allen Lazard (core) and inside linebacker Christian Kirksey (pectoral) will begin practicing.

The two were placed on injured reserve on Oct. 3.

Once they begin practicing, the Packers have 21 days to place them back on the active 53-person roster. To do that, they will have to make corresponding roster moves to create room.

Both players were injured against New Orleans on Sept. 27. Kirksey went out early in the game with what was initially deemed a shoulder injury, while Lazard played the entire game in what proved to be a career performance with six catches for 146 yards and a touchdown.

Bakhtiari back, Jones still out

In an effort to help his team recover from injuries that 19 players are managing, LaFleur had a walkthrough-styled practice with individual drills Wednesday. That allowed left tackle David Bakhtiari (chest), returner Tyler Ervin (wrist) and defensive lineman Tyler Lancaster (shoulder) to participate.

Running back Aaron Jones, however, did not practice with a calf strain. He did not play in Houston after injuring his leg last Thursday.

“It definitely helped him,” LaFleur said of the off day. “He’s got to continue to improve and get better each and every day, and I know he’s doing everything in his power. We want to be very, very careful with him and not put him in a position where he misses a significant amount of time. Obviously he’s a huge part to this whole team, everything he brings on game day. We’ll be smart with him, but hoping to get him back sooner than later as well.”

LaFleur said cornerback Josh Jackson may continue to see work Sunday against Minnesota, as the fourth-year player has filled in for the injured Kevin King (quad) the last 2½  weeks. King did not participate Wednesday.

“I think the more he plays, the better he gets,” LaFleur said of Jackson. “Certainly he’s going to have a heck of a challenge this week, especially with the wideouts and the weapons on the perimeter that the Minnesota Vikings have.”

Jones, King and kicker Mason Crosby (left calf and back) were the only players to not practice.

Packers add to practice squad

The Packers have filled their practice squad with two players and by agreeing to sign a third, following the passing of COVID-19 protocols and a physical. Offensive lineman Ben Braden, signed to the practice squad last Wednesday and then promoted to the active roster Saturday, was cut Monday and re-signed to the practice squad after clearing waivers.

The team also signed fifth-year cornerback KeiVarae Russell. The 5-foot, 11-inch, 196-pounder was a third-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2016 but was cut after that training camp. He spent 2016-18 in Cincinnati, playing 20 games and intercepting one pass. He then spent time on practices squads with the Los Angeles Chargers and New York Giants.

PackersNews.com also confirmed the Packers plan to sign veteran wide receiver Seth Roberts. Roberts, 29, was cut by Carolina on Monday after catching four passes for 31 yards in seven games. An undrafted free agent out of West Alabama in 2014, Roberts caught 158 passes for 1,826 yards and 13 touchdowns for the Las Vegas Raiders from 2014-18. In 2019 he caught 21 passes for Baltimore.