CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The mantra in football is that it is the ultimate team game. That is being put to the test in the NFL, not only on the field week by week, but also off of it in the fight against the coronavirus.
One positive COVID-19 test. Just one. That's all it takes to potentially send a team's season off the rails.
The Carolina Panthers have had three such positives, but all occurred in the run-up to the season.
Derrek Thomas placed on the NFL's reserve/COVID-19 list on August 30, and was released on September 8.
Offensive lineman Chris Reed was placed on the list on September 1, and activated September 23 (ahead of their game with the Los Angeles Chargers).
Defensive back Natrell Jamerson placed on the list September 9, and activated September 29.
They were all isolated cases, and the team has carried on.
Then came the news Monday that Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman Marlon Davidson tested positive AFTER the Falcons hosted Carolina the day before.
The Falcons have closed their facility, while the Panthers went into the NFL's "intensive protocols," meaning mask wearing during practice (but not when actively participating), the use of breathing shields inside their facemasks, and as much social distancing as possible.
Thursday's practice saw a pair of offensive lineman not practicing. Michael Schofield was absent, but not injury related, while Tyler Larsen did not practice due to what head coach Matt Rhule described as an "illness." Rhule is not allowed to go into the nature of a players illness, and declined to confirm it was COVID. Schofield was not active for Sunday's game against Atlanta. Fingers crossed that Larsen's illness isn't what it potentially could be.
"That (COVID) situation, I'm concerned for everybody," Rhule said on Thursday. "We're trying to take all of our precautions on our end. I'm just kind of taking it day-by-day and seeing our tests as they get back. Just making sure we're smart on our end."
Rhule said the added protocols are not a big deal, as the team was already implementing many of the measures on their own, but it brings to light a tightrope walk that all teams in the NFL are undertaking.
The situation is not perfect, but the Panthers are doing all they possibly can to A) not contract the virus, and B) if someone does contract it, not to spread it.
Locker rooms are, in normal times, an area that players commiserate. They check their phones, show off pictures of their children to teammates, and be together. The truth is, these are not normal times.
Since the Atlanta situation broke, the Panthers have not had a positive test on their team, and that is the good news. The waiting may be the hardest part in all of this, as the team is trying to prepare for a game, all the while wondering if anyone has been infected.
Many question just why is the NFL trying to get this season in, and do the risks outweigh the rewards. Reed said Thursday that his recent recovery from COVID had him less worried, but still concerned about facing Davidson. Still, he feels prevention can only go so far against the coronavirus.
"You can do everything right. You can wear a mask, you can not go out," Reed said Thursday. "You can do some stuff, and all of the sudden, you've got it. It's just the way it is, so it's kind of...you get mad at the situation and frustrated. You feel like it's not your fault that you did anything, but it's your responsibility to not spread it. If you feel sick, say something. Just be on top of it for everybody else as well."
Just like football, fighting COVID is a team game.