Sports leagues have faced unprecedented struggles in the wake of the emergence of COVID-19 as a significant threat to life as we know it. Despite the measures taken to get teams back out there, players contracting the respiratory disease is something the entire sports world has accepted and will simply have to live with.
The NBA pulled off a very successful bubble in Orlando earlier this year and, by extension, became a leading example when it comes to safe play. However, professional basketball in America has returned to arenas, with a percentage of fans to be allowed back inside. The challenges which could arrive as a result are yet to be seen but a number of players have shown positive tests ahead of the official start of the season.
Meanwhile, the NFL has been hit hard, with teams reporting several positives on a near-weekly basis. The Los Angeles Rams haven’t been spared despite having avoided losing players to the coronavirus all season. On Thursday, however, they were presented with the first sign of their vulnerability.
Coach Sean McVay revealed five players did not practice ahead of Sunday’s showdown with the New York Jets due to a player testing positive. Offensive linemen Bobby Evans and Brian Allen did not train, with linebackers Obo Okoronkwo and Justin Hollins, as well as safety Nick Scott, missing out as well.
The team did not identify the player who tested positive due to NFL rules on COVID-19 reporting but teammates deemed to have been in close-enough contact have been kept away from the rest of the roster. Evans was listed as a non-participant due to illness while the other four were listed as a result of non-injury issues.
The NFL requires a player or staff member who tests positive to be tested a second time in order to rule out a false positive, which is apparently very possible.
“Hopefully this is as minimum of an impact as possible (in terms of) what that means for those guys for the game,” McVay said. “We’re all just working through it and trying to navigate it as best we can.
“This is totally unprecedented, and navigating through it, trying to understand all the nuances, gives me that much more of an appreciation and a respect for what the league has done and then a lot of our guys up to this point. We’ve talked about having agility as a team and our players. The guys have seamlessly handled all the adjustments that we’ve had to make.”
The 9-4 Rams will play the 0-13 Jets at the SoFi Stadium this weekend and Heritage Sports have them -110 to add another result to the win column.
McVay’s men should go into the game brimming with confidence given the way their campaign is going – there’s also the fact that New York hasn’t registered a single win this late into the season. Players, though, have said they won’t have the Jets’ torrid form on the mind when they face off on Sunday. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald told reporters he’s been on the opposite side of such a situation and knows what it feels like, claiming the Jets have a good team in spite of the rut. Donald noted the Rams would need to go into the match “with the mindset that it’s going to be a dogfight” regardless of the opposition’s record.
Donald could be a huge threat for the Rams due to his ability to wriggle out of trouble and make unscripted plays outside of the pocket. The Rams will need to stay in their rush lanes but it’s expected that they will take an early lead and make it difficult for the Jets to mount any sort of comeback.
New York’s first-round draft pick Mekhi Becton has been one of the few positives for his team this season and is likely to earn a Pro Bowl call-up. The left tackle has lived up to the hype, showing technical prowess in pass protection and an impressive run game; he could be a key factor when the Jets take to the field.
However, the Jets will have their work cut out for them. Following a 40-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, they’ll have to take another trip back to the West Coast to play a team among those boasting the league’s best form.
Things might become a bit more difficult for the Rams because of the most recent development. The team had remained unaffected since the break, for the most part, but will now have to cope with a depleted roster in the wake of this new positive test.
Allen had tested positive during the spring, with veteran offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth claiming to have also tested positive during the summer. Rookie linebacker Terrell Lewis tested positive earlier in the year as well and was unable to practice at the beginning of training camp.
Having a mostly dependable roster – where COVID-19 is specifically concerned – has really paid off for the Rams. They will have to work harder to keep things together in the coming weeks, especially if more positives arise.