The Ravens placed five more players on the reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, further destabilizing their defense ahead of Sunday’s crucial game against the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals.
Safety Geno Stone, defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, inside linebackers Chris Board and Kristian Welch and practice squad offensive tackle David Sharpe, all of whom played significant snaps in at least one phase of Sunday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, were added to the list.
The Ravens now have 11 active-roster players and four practice squad members sidelined. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins, center Trystan Colon, outside linebackers Justin Houston and Pernell McPhee, cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Chris Westry and safety Chuck Clark were among those placed on the reserve list over the past week. It’s unclear how many could return for Sunday’s game, which could essentially determine the AFC North champion.
Under the NFL’s updated COVID-19 protocols, fully vaccinated players who test positive can clear protocol within one day if they register two negative tests and are asymptomatic. Players who are not vaccinated must quarantine for 10 days, which would rule out any player who tests positive for a game within that time frame.
In all, because of injuries, the coronavirus and rest schedules, just 13 Ravens defensive players were at practice Wednesday, which was moved indoors and closed to the media under NFL protocols.
“It is what it is,” coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday morning when asked about the team’s COVID-19 situation. “The protocols are what they are. The days, the testing, all of that stuff, it’s kind of complicated. I don’t spend too much time with it. It is what it is, and we’ll be where we’re at. We’re getting ready for practice right now.”
The five Ravens were among the 38 players placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list around the NFL on Wednesday after testing positive. The league postponed three games last week because of COVID-19 outbreaks, and NFL Players Association president JC Tretter said Wednesday that the NFL was close to canceling those games instead. There were more than 150 positive cases around the league in Week 15.
Stone’s absence could prove especially damaging if Clark is not cleared to come back. In his first career start, the second-year safety played every defensive snap Sunday and wore the green dot as the unit’s signal-caller.
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“Boy, he took that green dot and ran with it,” Harbaugh said Monday. “He had great communication back there. We really didn’t skip a beat back there between him and Chuck [Clark], which is really what you want to see.”
With starter DeShon Elliott and rookie Ar’Darius Washington out for the year, recent practice squad addition Tony Jefferson could have an expanded role against Cincinnati. He played nine defensive snaps and 13 special teams snaps in his return to Baltimore on Sunday.
With star defensive lineman Calais Campbell sidelined Sunday by a thigh injury, Madubuike again played over half of the Ravens’ defensive snaps and had his second sack of the season. As a run defender, he’s especially strong against zone attacks like the Bengals’. Madubuike also missed the Ravens’ Week 3 game against the Detroit Lions while on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Board and Welch, who back up Patrick Queen and Josh Bynes at inside linebacker, combined for just 26 defensive snaps Sunday, but they led the Ravens with 21 special teams snaps apiece. Malik Harrison, who began the season as a starter but played only on special teams Sunday, could earn more playing time if either’s unavailable.
After taking over for the injured Tyre Phillips (knee) at right tackle, Sharpe played 47 snaps as a practice squad call-up Sunday and impressed Harbaugh. Starting right tackle Patrick Mekari, who’s missed the past two games with a hand injury, was limited in practice Wednesday and could be an option Sunday.
With Houston and McPhee sidelined, the Ravens got much-needed help at outside linebacker with the return of rookie Daelin Hayes. The fifth-round pick hasn’t played since late September because of a knee injury and subsequent cleanup procedure.
The Ravens also signed center Jimmy Murray to their practice squad. Murray, who last played in a game in 2018, was most recently on the Tennessee Titans’ practice squad.