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- American football wide receiver
When rookie Jaylen Waddle landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday, it brought the Dolphins' total to five, leaving the team without its leading receiver, top two rushers, top punt returner and top kickoff returner.
In response to a one-week period that also cost the team running backs Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed and Phillip Lindsay, plus standout rookie safety Jevon Holland, the Dolphins voluntarily stepped up protocols at the team facility before the NFL announced stiffer preventive measures league-wide.
The news on Waddle was significant, coming three days before the Dolphins face the visiting New York Jets in another critical game to keep playoff hopes alive. With the running game on shaky footing, Waddle would have been counted on to keep the chains moving as Tua Tagovailoa’s favorite target.
“We’re praying for Jaylen and hope that he has a speedy recovery,” receiver Isaiah Ford said. “I’m not sure how he’s feeling but just with the virus and everything like that, it’s a really big opportunity for a lot of other guys. We pride ourselves on having that next-man-up approach and it’s going to take all of us to kind of cover Jaylen’s role as well as the running backs’.”
Waddle has broken the Dolphins’ rookie record with 849 receiving yards. His 86 receptions have him on pace to break the NFL rookie record of 101 set by Arizona’s Anquan Boldin in 2003.
The Dolphins wide receiver with the next-highest yardage total is DeVante Parker (30 receptions for 349 yards).
Dolphins' special teams are in a bind
None of this takes into account the effect COVID is having on Miami’s special teams.
Waddle leads the Dolphins with nine kickoff returns for a 17.6 average. The only other player on the active roster credited with a kickoff return is Albert Wilson, but that was a 2-yard recovery of an onside kick.
Holland has a 7.5 average to lead Miami in punt returns. Jakeem Grant, who has since been traded to Chicago, and Waddle are the only players who have returned punts for the Dolphins this season.
Holland is tied for second on the team with nine passes defensed. Safety Brandon Jones credited Holland for “how much of a great player he is on the field and even beyond — just being able to communicate and get people lined up. He’s done a tremendous job this year.”
Any player could get the call Sunday
COVID could be an equalizer Sunday. Or it could open the door for a lesser-known player to shine. Interestingly, sports books that opened with the Dolphins favored by eight or 8 1/2 points now list them as much as 10-point favorites.
“Everyone involved needs to be ready to be the next guy up, whether you’re P-squad (practice squad), third on the depth chart, it doesn’t matter,” center Michael Deiter said. “Because obviously it’s real. COVID’s real, so everyone could have an opportunity out of nowhere.”
Additionally Thursday, the Dolphins placed running back Gerrid Doaks, a seventh-round pick, on the practice squad/COVID-19 list. Running back Jordan Scarlett was added to the practice squad.
The reserve/COVID list is for players who have tested positive or been in contact with someone who has.
The chances of players on the COVID list becoming available for the Jets game increased Thursday afternoon when the NFL updated its protocol to accelerate the return-to-play for some. Now, fully vaccinated players can use one of three testing options and return if they're asymptomatic for at least 24 hours. The new protocols also stiffened preventive measures, calling for more masking and eliminating outside visitors during road trips.
Ford said he and his teammates already were taking precautions to limit the spread.
“We all know what’s at stake,” Ford said. “I don’t think that needs to be overly emphasized or anything like that. We all know that we love this game and we all know we love each other, so we want to keep each other as safe as possible — not only us, but each others’ family.”
Social distancing, Zoom back in effect
After consulting with the league, the Dolphins proactively took additional precautionary steps Thursday, shifting media interviews to Zoom, which was the case for the 2020 season. The team also made changes to player meetings before the league took it a step further, calling for all meetings to be held outdoors or virtually.
The Dolphins are far from alone. The Washington Football Team had 21 cases as of Thursday afternoon. The Seattle Seahawks lost standout receiver Tyler Lockett. The Bears are without all three coordinators: ex-Dolphins assistant Bill Lazor (offense), Sean Desai (defense) and Chris Tabor (special teams).
The NBA and NHL also are feeling the pinch. The Florida Panthers had five players in COVID protocol as of Wednesday night and had just 13 skaters available for Thursday morning’s skate. ESPN reported that the NHL will implement enhanced protocols through Jan. 7 that include all meetings being held virtually.
And in England, only two of the six Premier League matches scheduled for Saturday were still planning to move forward as of Thursday afternoon.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Receiver Jaylen Waddle becomes fifth Dolphin on COVID-19 list