Packers putting faith in their COVID-19 protocols; Rams going with Jared Goff at QB
GREEN BAY - Billy Turner had just arrived at Lambeau Field on Wednesday morning when he heard the news of newly acquired tackle Jared Veldheer's positive COVID-19 test.
The Green Bay Packers offensive lineman had good reason for concern. A day earlier, Veldheer had arrived at the facility from Indianapolis, where he played left tackle in the Colts' final two games, including a wild-card loss at the Buffalo Bills last week. He practiced that Tuesday morning on Clarke Hinkle Field, going through drills without a mask.
The uncertainty of the virus is disconcerting for anyone, even people without a playoff game coming up Saturday.
"Concerning, yeah," Turner said, "but that's 2020, 2021. That is this football season not only for us, but the entire National Football League, college, high school. At any level, you never really know. That's why this virus has been so dangerous and so deadly. You just never know, and a situation like that is unfortunate. Especially when you're an older guy, and you're being able to play for a playoff team again.
"It sucks, you know, but at the same time, those are the cards that we are dealt. And right now that is just a part of our story."
The Packers will monitor the potential spread of COVID-19 in their locker room throughout the remainder of this week, hoping there are no more positive tests. All season, the team has prided itself on strictly adhering to the league's protocols for precaution against the coronavirus. The Packers are confident those protocols will ensure the competitive integrity of this Saturday's NFC divisional playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams.
No Packers players were added to the reserve/COVID-19 list as high-risk contacts. Nor were any held out of Thursday's practice because of a positive test.
"I slept pretty good last night," coach Matt LaFleur said. "Just confident in our protocols and our approach and how we handle things around here. It's a great credit to (security director) Doug Collins and Flea (head athletic trainer Bryan Engel) and all the work they put in, and to our guys being disciplined and doing the right things."
Among the precautions the Packers have followed, the team has been especially careful with its offensive line. Because it is one of the more populated positions on the roster, the offensive line has met in what was formerly the media auditorium throughout the season. The media auditorium is a big room designed to hold large press gatherings, including the introductions of general manager Brian Gutekunst and LaFleur in recent years.
Turner said linemen are "very, very spread out" during meetings, something he hopes will help prevent the spread this week.
"I don't even know if it's two people per row," Turner said. "I mean, you can't get anywhere near the closest person to you without getting up and walking toward them. So thank goodness that it is a giant room. They're very, very strict about protocols here in Green Bay at our facility. In all our meetings, regardless of the room, there's definitely a minimum of probably 10 feet between people. Even though I know 6 feet, but they're taking extra precautions.
"So when you do get in a situation like this with somebody like Jared, you have that distance in between, and that little tracker thing is not going off and beeping because you're too close to somebody. Kudos to Flea and his staff for taking those extra precautions, because without that we could be in hot water right now."
Ready for anything
The possibility was removed when Veldheer tested positive for coronavirus, but Turner acknowledged the tackle's arrival presented some uncertainty on where he would line up against the Rams.
Veldheer had played every snap of the past two games at left tackle for the Colts. With Aaron Donald arriving in town for Saturday's divisional playoff game, the Packers could have moved Turner inside and put Veldheer at left tackle. Such a move would have paired the athletic Turner and Pro Bowl left guard Elgton Jenkins most frequently against the NFL's best interior pass rusher.
Turner, whose versatility has gotten the Packers' offensive line out of jams this season, indicated he had considered the possibility.
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"I was planning on playing one of the tackle positions," Turner said. "I knew there was a chance I could be playing a guard position. You never really know, especially with how this season's gone, but that's any season to be honest with you."
With Veldheer unavailable, the Packers' offensive line appears set.
Turner will likely stay at left tackle, where he played Week 17 when the Packers clinched the NFC's top overall playoff seed with a win at the Chicago Bears. Lucas Patrick will likely stay at right guard with Rick Wagner at right tackle.
Turner had two days to prepare for his move to left tackle against the Bears. David Bakhtiari tore his ACL on Thursday of that week, late in the Packers' game-plan preparation. Turner said Bakhtiari has been important in helping him make the move.
"I see Dave on a daily basis," Turner said, "even though he's injured right now, and ask him how he's doing. Check in on him, check in on his family, and ask him any kind of questions I have about an individual play or an individual technique or a concept. So, yeah, I've been in contact with Dave asking questions here and there, but at the same time you want to be kind of careful about the situation at hand. Guys get injured and whatnot, you need to kind of give them their space sometimes, too. So that's something you need to be able to navigate."
Rams going with Goff
The Rams’ starting quarterback situation became clear Thursday after head coach Sean McVay announced that backup John Wolford (neck) would be ruled out of Saturday’s game.
Wolford started last weekend’s wild-card game against the Seattle Seahawks and took a hit to his neck in the first quarter. He missed the remainder of the game and was taken to the hospital for further evaluations, forcing Jared Goff to play the rest of the game.
Goff, who has been recovering from right thumb surgery for more than two weeks, is expected to start with Blake Bortles as his backup.
“I think we were pretty much preparing for Jared all week,” LaFleur said. “It doesn’t change too much.”
Donald (ribs) has been removed from the final injury report and is set to play Saturday. Donald told local media Wednesday that he feels “strong” and “healthy” after the NFL Network reported he suffered torn rib cartilage in the second half against the Seahawks.
Starting left guard David Edwards (ankle) and wide receiver Cooper Kupp (knee) are listed as questionable. Outside linebacker Terrell Lewis (ankle) has been ruled out.
Meanwhile, the Packers came out of the bye week refreshed and uninjured and concluded their final practice the same way.
Only one player, defensive lineman Kingsley Keke, who has been dealing with a concussion sustained in Week 16 against the Tennessee Titans, has an injury designation on the final report. He is listed as doubtful. Although Keke did not practice Thursday, he was present and was doing rehab work off to the side.
Cornerback Kevin King (Achilles), wide receiver Allen Lazard (core/wrist), outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (ankle/thumb), wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (knee/ankle) and Wagner (knee) were limited participants at practice all week. However, they have each been removed from the final injury report.