INDIANAPOLIS — After a rough week with two players added to the reserve/COVID-19 list, a Sunday home blowout loss to the Tennessee Titans, then punter Rigoberto Sanchez’s news that he needs Tuesday surgery to remove a cancerous growth, the Indianapolis Colts did have a modest measure of good news to share.
The three players on the COVID-19 list — defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, defensive end/tackle Denico Autry, and rookie running back Jonathan Taylor — are improving. Head coach Frank Reich didn’t put a timetable on their returns, but he sounded like each player is trending in a healthy direction.
“We’re optimistic with the guys that have COVID, they are making good progress,” Reich said Monday.
In the case of Taylor, the rookie running back placed on the list on Saturday, Reich confirmed his leading rusher was a “close contact” situation, which means he was in contact with someone who tested positive. That means Taylor could be back on Sunday, when the Colts (7-4) visit the Houston Texans (4-7), if he has five consecutive negative COVID-19 tests since the last contact with the person who tested positive.
Buckner and Autry tested positive, which means their timetable is different. Buckner, a cornerstone on the defensive line, was placed on the list on Wednesday. Autry has missed the past two games since being designated to the inactive list on Nov. 20.
If a player is symptomatic, that’s a mandatory 14-day absence, according to NFL guidelines. If he’s asymptomatic, it’s a mandatory 10-day absence.
Reich said he and general manager Chris Ballard decided not to divulge such information on COVID-19 cases out of respect for the players.
The fact that Autry, who leads the Colts with six sacks, was placed on the list on Nov. 20 means if he’s been getting negative test results without experiencing symptoms, he could be eligible to return as soon as Wednesday’s practice. If there have been symptoms, there’s still a chance he’s activated for Sunday, presuming those tests have been consistently negative.
“Just because of the nature of COVID and all the uncertainties behind it, I’m not prepared to say (Autry will) be available for the game, (or) not be available for the game because these things change on a daily basis, as you know,” Reich said.
“But I will tell you that nobody has had any setbacks. Everybody is doing well and they are moving along the path the way they should be moving along the path to being active. We’ll be optimistic that that path will continue. You guys know the dates, so if it all works out, great.”
Reich opened his Zoom chat by expressing optimism that Sanchez will make a full recovery from his Tuesday procedure. The fourth-year punter learned of the diagnosis late in the week, but insisted on playing, and averaged 50.8 yards on his five punts with a long of 58 yards and one downed inside the 20-yard line.
“It puts things in perspective,” Reich said. “We all know – everyone’s livelihood is really important to them as far as their job and so on and so forth, how you feed your family. So football is really important to us, it’s the way we make a living, but we all know that family and health come first.
“I’m thankful for our organization for the family culture that we have, starting from the top – from the Irsay family. You guys know better than I do because you’ve been here longer than I have, just the extent that (owner) Mr. (Jim) Irsay and his family and this organization will go to help players when they go through situations. So, very thankful for that and don’t take that for granted.”