Packers hoping to avoid Vikings' setbacks involving COVID-19 protocols

Tom Silverstein
Packers News

GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers have gone from “we have a ways to go” to “we’d like to be better” to having better than 85% of their players vaccinated for COVID-19 in a little more than a week.

According to coach Matt LaFleur, 78 of the team’s 89 players (87.6%) are vaccinated, which means the Packers have reached the NFL’s initial goal for team vaccination rate. Some teams have reached higher percentages and the Packers hope to follow suit.

"Right now, we've got 11 guys that aren't,” LaFleur said. “So, all we're going to do is continue to tell them what the protocols are and try to educate guys as best we can and give them the information. And then they get to make the decision for themselves.”

Team president Mark Murphy said after the shareholders meeting July 26 that the Packers still had work to do to get to 85%, and late last week, LaFleur said they were still aiming for a higher number. The 87.6% vaccination rate he reported Monday is on par with the percent of vaccinated players league wide, according to NFL numbers released late last week.

Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Monday that 11 Green Bay players have yet to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

A total of 19 teams have a vaccination rate of 90% and of those, seven have 95% of their players vaccinated, the league said.

In light of what happened with the Minnesota Vikings this weekend, LaFleur is keeping his fingers crossed that the vaccination numbers continue to go up and a practice isn’t threatened because multiple players needed to be quarantined.

Three of the Vikings’ quarterbacks had to miss a Saturday night practice after one – Kellen Mond – tested positive. Because starter Kirk Cousins and backup Nate Stanley – both of whom reportedly had not been vaccinated -- were close contacts, they were held out as well. Jake Browning, who had been vaccinated, was the only quarterback allowed to participate.

The NFL requires unvaccinated players to quarantine for at least five days if they have a close contact with someone who has tested positive. Someone who is vaccinated and comes in close contact is tested daily but allowed to take part in team activities as long as the result is negative.

On Monday, the Vikings put Cousins, Mond, Stanley and another player on the reserve / COVID-19 list, which means they could all miss 5-10 days of practice. If you land on the list without testing positive, it means you are unvaccinated and had a close contact with someone who tested positive.

 A frustrated coach Mike Zimmer had to sign another quarterback to get through practice this week.

LaFleur’s hope is that the Packers have a high enough vaccination rate that if someone tests positive, it doesn’t sideline multiple players during camp. So far, the Packers only have one player – linebacker Ray Wilborn – who is on the reserve / COVID-19 list. He was placed there at the time players reported for camp.

The league has informed teams that if they can’t play because of an outbreak among unvaccinated players than they will forfeit. If the outbreak is among vaccinated players, the league will step in and try to figure out a solution.

Slimmer and trimmer

 LaFleur was impressed with the work undrafted rookie Krys Barnes did last year to force himself into the starting lineup and he’s just as impressed with the work Barnes did in the offseason to get himself ready physically for his second season.

“I think he did a really nice job throughout the entire offseason, taking care of his body and then coming in in great shape,” LaFleur said. “And I know he's working. He's always working hard at understanding all the details behind our scheme. (He’s) another young player that I'm really excited about.”

Barnes said he dropped 10 pounds after playing last season at 245 pounds.

“Looking back on the film last year, I realized I was super heavy,” said. “I didn't realize how much weight I was carrying. So, this offseason I was trying to slim down a little bit, lost about 10 pounds But I still feel powerful, I feel a little bit faster.”

After starting 10 games last season, Barnes has been working with the No. 1 defense through the first week of camp. He and veteran De’Vondre Campbell have been paired together most often.

Even Lewis was nervous

At 37 years old, tight end Marcedes Lewis and quarterback Aaron Rodgers are the two oldest players on the team.

So, it is natural that they have gravitated toward each other in the two-plus years, Lewis has been with the team.

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 Lewis said he and Rodgers talked every couple of weeks during the offseason when Rodgers was in the middle of his squabble with the Packers. And while Lewis wouldn’t divulge specifics about what they talked about, he said the subject wasn’t always football.

He said he didn’t know for sure that Rodgers would be back this year.

“I think everybody was nervous, right?” he said. “Even me being close to him. There was times where we didn't even talk ball. We just talked life. And I think that was more so just to kind of put things in perspective, because we'd have to be ready for whatever might happen.

“But hindsight is 20/20. You know, we're here now and I'm happy that it is this way. So, I don't want to spend too much time talking about what if. We’re all here and definitely 100% bought in. We’re going to get the job done. So excited about that.”

Offensive line expectations

The way the Packers were able to shuffle their offensive line last season and maintain a high level of play despite numerous injuries is something the linemen don’t take lightly.

They have made it a priority to make sure everyone who plays on the line understands that versatility and production are a must.

“The Green Bay Packers, there's a standard for offensive line play and all the older guys in the room let the younger guys know that from day one,” tackle Billy Turner said. “As soon as they walk into this building and walk into that room, there is a standard.

“There's a standard like we're one of the best of the best year in and year out. That is the standard. We are not (expletive) players. So, you need to figure your stuff out.”