ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Football Team, already impacted by injuries, continues to add players to the reserve/COVID-19 list at a time when it can least afford to lose depth.
Washington has placed 17 players on the COVID list this week -- including eight on Wednesday and three more on Thursday -- bringing its total to 21 as it prepares to play the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Both teams are 6-7, with Washington holding the seventh and final playoff spot with four games remaining. Coach Ron Rivera said he has not heard any discussions about possibly canceling the game.
Of those 21 players, 11 were possible starters Sunday. Washington also has 13 players on injured reserve (two players are on both lists), leaving the team having to piece together a lineup for a game that impacts its playoff fate.
"We're in meetings and one of the guys told me someone else had it, it's like, 'Here's another one; there's another one,'" guard Brandon Scherff said Wednesday. "Like coach Rivera said, 'Next man up.' It's a big opportunity for them to show everyone what they've got."
Washington's strength has been its defensive line, but as of now that group is decimated. Of the top six linemen on the active roster, five are on the COVID list; only tackle Daron Payne remains fine.
Another lineman, end Montez Sweat, is also on the list but remains on injured reserve with a fractured jaw. Sweat would have played last week had he not tested positive for the coronavirus. He is eligible to come off the list Saturday, but that would require him to then play in a game for the first time since Oct. 31 without the benefit of a practice.
Several players could come off the list later this week, including defensive ends James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill, both of whom missed Sunday's loss to Dallas. Defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Tim Settle also could come off the list. All four players must test negative twice in a 48-hour span to return. Some of the affected players, including Allen and Settle, had not shown symptoms as of Tuesday night.
Washington signed a possible reinforcement for the defensive line Thursday, adding veteran Akeem Spence.
Rivera said he is not concerned for himself, despite the high number of positives. Rivera, who battled cancer last year, had said in August that he was immunocompromised and was frustrated with the pace of his players getting vaccinated.
But this week he said he already has received his booster shot and wears a mask when in a crowd or around other people. The current situation goes well beyond what they anticipated, Rivera said.
"Nobody expected this [Omicron] variant," he said. "Because it's spreading so quickly around the league right now, that almost feels like a matter of time. I don't think anybody expected it to be like this. Our thought might be that guys that hadn't gotten vaccinated might have come down with it at some point or another, not that it would be a crossover."
Rivera said he did not know for sure that the players testing positive have the new variant. Rather, he said he was speculating given the rapid spread.
Washington only has two healthy tight ends on the roster -- Ricky Seals-Jones and rookie John Bates. Its top corner, Kendall Fuller, will miss Sunday because he was placed on the COVID list. Two key offensive players, receiver Terry McLaurin and running back J.D. McKissic, are in the concussion protocol.
If McLaurin can't play, his replacement, Cam Sims, likely will be unavailable as well. He was put on the COVID list Wednesday. Receiver Curtis Samuel, who has been limited in his return the past three games after battling a groin injury, did not practice because of a hamstring issue.
"We've dealt with adversity all year," Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke said. "We've had guys go down and step up and play; it's just more for this week. We have confidence in all our guys. It should be an interesting one Sunday, but I feel good about it."
Rivera said the staff focuses on teaching during the walk-through sessions to get new players caught up, although Washington should have four of its original five offensive linemen available.
"You take every able body you have and they all get opportunities to practice, get opportunities in meetings and walk-throughs to make sure they're brought up to speed," Rivera said.
And then they have to hope others don't test positive later in the week.
"I got vaccinated so I trust the vaccine," said rookie defensive end Shaka Toney, who, as of now, would make his second consecutive start Sunday. "I've seen guys come back fast from being vaccinated and their symptoms are perfectly normal. I won't say I'm not worried, but I trust my body; I have a good diet, I got vaccinated; I did the booster shot. You can't live life with fear. I will follow all the precautions and do my best to stay available."