NY Jets and COVID outbreak: How they're trying to march to season's finish line

·4 min read

As teams across the NFL push forward to the finish line of the season, few teams are as decimated as the Jets.

As of Friday, they had 20 players going through the league's COVID protocol, as well as head coach Robert Saleh testing positive earlier this week.

"You're kind of numb to it," said offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. "It's almost like flashbacks to last year."

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LaFleur was alongside Saleh on staff with the San Francisco 49ers last season. Due to restrictions during a spike in the pandemic, the 49ers were displaced from their California home and spent the final five weeks of the season in Arizona. There is no movement like that for LaFleur's team this season, but there is a return to more virtual interactions as the team tries to control the mini outbreak suffered earlier this week.

"We're used to it," said LaFleur. "Our video department is used to it in terms of getting everything set up."

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A scheduled matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday will shape the top of next April's draft order. While that is important for the future of the franchise, so is the development of the current group of players, even during such a hectic time. The Jets are attempting to navigate the remainder of the schedule amid illness and injury.

"You honestly go out to practice like, 'alright, who is going to be out there today?'," said LaFleur. "We go through our rundown at our 7:30 [a.m.] staff meeting, but things can change from 7:30 to noon. It can change every 10 minutes right now. No one really cares, we just have to go."

Decimated defense in 'new territory'

The hardest hit aspect of the team has been the Jets defense, where the team currently has a dozen players in COVID protocol. That includes five defensive starters for which defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich has had to gameplan this week without.

"We are in new territory for me and I think for anyone involved in football," said Ulbrich.

The secondary is already undermanned with earlier-season injuries to Marcus Maye and Lamarcus Joyner being on injured reserve. Ulbrich said Thursday that he could not name any starters at safety for Sunday due to still having to evaluate the new talent on the roster.

"It's an enormous challenge," said Ulbrich. "You have guys that have not only not taken reps as a Jet, but they just got here within 48 hours. It's a lot of sleepless nights for these coaches and players just trying to get caught up. And for me, to really take a step back and evaluate what is fair to ask of them for Sunday."

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There is still a chance that some of those players could be cleared prior to Sunday's game, but that would appear unlikely in a lot of cases. Returning over the next few days would involve them clearing league protocol with multiple negative tests, as well as ramping back up to game speed for them to be a factor on the field for the team.

"We are preparing as if we won't have them," said Ulbrich.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Gardner Minshew (10) throws the ball with pressure from New York Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (95) in the first half at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in East Rutherford.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Gardner Minshew (10) throws the ball with pressure from New York Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (95) in the first half at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in East Rutherford.

Still something to play for

The Jets are well out of playoff contention, but have a young nucleus and a first-year coaching staff still eager to establish the culture of the current regime. Even with personnel changes from week to week and the unpredictability of the COVID outbreak, the Jets are still trying to press forward with business as usual.

"The stuff that I think about and the rest of our staff think about is how we can get some stuff corrected, no matter who is out there," said LaFleur.

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Another motivating factor for playing through this hardship: pride. For Quinnen Williams, the Pro Bowl alternate is questionable to play through a nagging shoulder injury. Williams' absence would weaken an already undermanned defense, but he is choosing to play through any lingering pain.

"I want to play," said Williams. "I love this game so much and I love this team so much. My passion is to be the best that I can be. I feel like I am taking the necessary steps to get to where I want to be as a football player. I'm not there just yet and I won't let negativity or injuries get in the way."

Williams is hopeful that he can finish the season active for the Jets. When asked, he would not indicate whether a procedure would be needed to fix the shoulder injury in the offseason.

Email: aitken@northjersey.com

Twitter: @robertaitkenjr

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: NY Jets dealing with COVID outbreak, prepare for Jaguars

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