Better now than in midseason, we guess, but it’s beginning to look like the Delta variant of the virus is going to mess up some NFL training camps.
For the second time in Lamar Jackson’s young career, COVID-19 is forcing him to the sidelines. Head coach John Harbaugh announced Wednesday that Jackson is being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on the eve of camp’s first practice. Jackson will be sidelined for the start of camp in accordance with NFL guidelines. Harbaugh also announced that running back Gus Edwards is also going on the COVID list.
The league’s Most Valuable Player in 2019 went through his first bout with the virus in November of last season, when the Ravens suffered an outbreak that forced multiple players to the Reserve/COVID-19 list prior to their Week 12 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. That contest was postponed twice before it was eventually played on Wednesday, Dec. 2, six days after Thanksgiving when the game was originally scheduled to take place.
After returning from COVID-19 last year, Jackson said he experienced flu-like symptoms and lost his sense of taste or smell for an extended period.
Jackson talked about his excitement for training camp and the upcoming season this week on “The Lounge” podcast, and he had prepared diligently, participating in multiple workouts with teammates this offseason in Florida and Arizona. However, dealing with the virus remains a concern for every NFL team.
Speaking on Tuesday before Jackson’s positive test was announced, veteran defensive end Calais Campbell said COVID-19 was still on the minds of players, even though the Ravens have a vaccination rate in the 90-percent range among players.
“I think the biggest thing is just trying to make sure that we don’t have any big outbreaks and keeping the game safe,” said Campbell, who was stricken with the virus last season, but who was vaccinated during the offseason.
“I think 85% of the league is vaccinated. I believe this team is even higher than that. And so, the majority of the guys are going to be able to have the proper protocols. But for the few who feel strongly against it or chose not to get vaccinated, being in the NFLPA – being an executive committee member – my job is to protect them, give them all the rights they can. I’m a fan of the vaccination. I got it for myself, and I will encourage a guy if I think that he wants to get vaccinated, to get more information, and if he doesn’t, that’s fine.”
Jackson’s absence will mean more reps for Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley as they compete for the No. 2 quarterback role. Baltimore also signed undrafted rookie quarterback Kenji Bahar.
Edwards’ absence means more reps for J.K. Dobbins, Justice Hill, Ty’Son Williams and undrafted rookie Nate McCrary.
At the team’s first full-squad practice on Wednesday, QBs Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley both got reps with the first-team offense.
“Those guys had all the reps and they did well,” Harbaugh said. “I was pleased with them. It’s only going to bolster those two guys and make those guys stronger than they would have been otherwise and it helps our team be better.”
McSorley had a beautiful deep pass to Miles Boykin bounce off the wide receiver’s fingertips, but the former Penn State quarterback put it in the perfect spot. McSorley’s best throw may have been one deep down the seam to J.K. Dobbins, which McSorley dropped right over Tyus Bowser’s shoulder into Dobbins’ outstretched arms. On the very next play, McSorley threw another deep dime, this time down the sideline, to Marquise Brown for what would have been a touchdown.
Huntley also had perhaps his finest practice as a pro. He connected with Brown on a long touchdown during 11-on-11s early in practice, then showed off some of his speed and elusiveness on a broken play scramble. Huntley isn’t as explosive as Jackson as a runner (nobody is) but he may be the closest thing.
Huntley also had a nice play when he scrambled to his right to find Devin Duvernay breaking back for a sideline completion. Huntley, who took over for Jackson in last year’s playoff loss in Buffalo, also had a precise toss to tight end Eli Wolf that Wolf plucked off the top of a defender’s head.
“I thought they performed very well. The ball went up top a lot today,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “I couldn’t even tell who was throwing the ball a lot of times. I was just looking up trying to find the ball and it being right in the spot it was supposed to be.”