Packers ILB Krys Barnes, QB Jordan Love placed on reserve/COVID-19 list
GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers were able to complete their game Thursday night at San Francisco, but their first week battling COVID-19 ended much like it began.
Rookie inside linebacker Krys Barnes tested positive for COVID-19, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed to PackersNews. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. Barnes, who played 23 snaps against the 49ers before leaving with a calf injury, was asymptomatic Friday, the source said.
Barnes has been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. After conducting contact tracing to determine if any other players were around Barnes enough to be considered high-risk exposures, the Packers also placed rookie quarterback Jordan Love on the COVID-19 list. Love is Barnes' roommate in Green Bay.
Barnes’ positive test was first reported by NFL Network.
It is the second positive COVID-19 test the Packers have had this week, following rookie running back A.J. Dillon’s positive test Monday. Barnes shares a linebacker position room with fellow rookie Kamal Martin, who was placed on the COVID-19 list this week because he was determined to be a high-risk exposure to Dillon. Running back Jamaal Williams was also unavailable Thursday night because he was on the COVID-19 list as a high-risk exposure.
Coach Matt LaFleur said he was "definitely a little surprised" to discover another positive test Friday, although he acknowledged the virus' unpredictable nature shouldn't be surprising. When asked Friday, LaFleur declined to say whether it would have been best to postpone Thursday's game with a positive COVID-19 test so fresh.
"It’s something I've put zero thought into," LaFleur said, "and, you know, we’re just going to – that’s above my pay grade. If they tell us we're going to play, that’s exactly what we’re going to do, and just do the best job we can."
LaFleur said Packers players were in team facilities Friday to have a light workout after Thursday's game. With a maximum of 10 players allowed in the weight room at a time, LaFleur said that process could continue into Saturday. With the Packers off this weekend, LaFleur said players won't be back to Lambeau Field until Monday.
"I'm really confident with our protocols," LaFleur said, "the job that (director of security/risk management) Doug Collins and (head athletic trainer) Flea Engel have done setting us up to make sure that we contain this thing as best we can. I mean, we are in a pandemic. I think our guys have been pretty diligent in their approach with it, and done everything in their power. But it is what it is. This thing's pretty tough to control."
Even with a “a pretty good idea” Aaron Jones could play throughout their short week leading into Thursday’s trip to the 49ers, it wasn’t until game-day morning his role was determined.
Until then, LaFleur said it was conceivable Tyler Ervin would be the Packers’ lead tailback. When Jones woke up Thursday morning with a calf that felt “great” after healing from a strain two weeks earlier, the Packers realized they would not have to hold back.
“Anytime you’re dealing with something muscular,” LaFleur said, “you never want to totally commit to that because you never know how that’s going to feel. But he woke up this morning, said he felt great. We put him through a little pregame routine, said he felt great. So we went with what we thought was best.”
The Packers went with a heavy dosage of Jones against the 49ers from the start. Jones touched the football on each of the game’s first four plays: two carries for 17 yards and two catches for 20 yards.
Jones finished with 58 yards on 15 carries and added five catches for 21 yards.
“I thought that definitely gave our offense a shot in the arm,” LaFleur said. “Just it was so nice to see him back there just making plays, making people miss, getting more out of the runs than were potentially what they were blocked for. I think it gave our offense a lot of confidence. It kind of got us into an early rhythm, and then we were able to connect on a deep pass to Davante (Adams) down the left sideline.
“It was great to have Aaron back in the fold. He’s such an important piece to our offense and adds just another dimension of explosiveness when he’s in there, that we have.”
Jones finished with 20 touches, more than the Packers could have expected. That he touched the football in the fourth quarter of a blowout certainly was not the plan, but the Packers needed to use him because of injuries. Dexter Williams, who was elevated from the practice squad, left with a potentially serious knee injury, LaFleur said.
Williams had an MRI on Friday. NFL Network reported that Williams suffered an MCL sprain and will miss at least three weeks.
The Packers were without running backs Dillon and Jamaal Williams because both were on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Burks in the middle
LaFleur may have felt squeezed at the running back position, but that wasn’t the only place the Packers were dangerously thin Thursday.
They went into the game with starting inside linebacker Martin on the COVID-19 list due to a “close contact” designation and during the game fellow starter Barnes left with a calf injury.
So, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine turned to Oren Burks, a forgotten man on defense who had been moved to outside linebacker early this season because he wasn’t offering much inside.
Surprisingly, Burks played pretty well, finishing second on the team in tackles with five, including one for loss. He wasn’t perfect in pass coverage, but it was the first time it looked like he was playing the inside position confidently.
Martin and Barnes, both rookies, should be back next week and veteran Christian Kirksey is likely to come off injured reserve, so playing time will be hard to find for Burks. But there is some athletic talent there if Pettine and inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti can harness it.
“I think they’ve done a nice job,” LaFleur said. “Certainly, they’re young players. With that, there’s going to be some mistakes, but I feel like they’re growing into the position well. I thought they did a nice job. It’s not easy being in and out and then back in. It’s hard to get into a rhythm but I think KO’s done a good job with those guys and I think they’re making good progress.”
Stretching the field
The Packers lead the league in completions of 40 or more yards with nine, which is three more than the multiple teams tied for second.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed two of them, one a 52-yard touchdown to Marquez Valdes-Scantling and the other a 49-yarder to Davante Adams.
For the season, Adams has two (40 and 45), Valdes-Scantling has two (45 and 41), Allen Lazard has two (48 and 72) and Robert Tonyan has one (45).