THOUSAND OAKS — The Rams were dealing with their most extensive COVID-19 scare of the season Thursday night after one player’s positive test for the virus led to five being held out of practice.
Offensive tackle Bobby Evans, center Brian Allen, safety Nick Scott and linebackers Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Justin Hollins missed Thursday afternoon’s practice at Cal Lutheran University.
NFL rules prevented the team from saying which of them received a positive result in daily testing, and which were held out of practice because of contact tracing.
But Rams’ the official injury report listed Evans as missing practice because of “illness,” and the others’ non-participation as “not injury related.”
Coach Sean McVay indicated the Rams got a positive test result before practice and were waiting or a follow-up test to either confirm the result or show it to be a false positive.
McVay said it was too soon to say if any of the players will miss Sunday’s game between the Rams (9-4) and New York Jets (0-13) at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.
“Hopefully this is as minimum of an impact as possible (in terms of) what that means for those guys for the game,” McVay said. “We’re all just working through it and trying to navigate it as best we can.”
As of Thursday evening, none of the five Rams had been placed on the league’s COVID-19 reserve list, for players who test positive or had contact with an infected individual.
If any players go on the reserve list, though, it will be the first time since the start of the season that a member of the Rams’ 53-man active roster is kept out of a practice or game by the virus. Okoronkwo, Hollins and Scott play extensively. Evans is a backup lineman and special-teams player, and Allen has yet to play this season because of a knee injury.
In mid-November, the Rams used the list for three members of the practice squad, wide receiver J.J. Koski, tight end Kendall Blanton and defensive back Jake Gervase. All were cleared to come off the list within 10 days, but Blanton went back on it for a few days this week.
Later in November, positive test results for an unidentified player and staff member contributed to McVay’s decision to cancel a practice session Nov. 27, two days before a Rams loss to the San Francisco 49ers. But followup tests the same day showed neither person to be infected.
Another practice-squad player, linebacker Jachai Polite, was placed on the COVID reserve list Dec. 12 and remained on it Thursday.
In all, 13 Rams players are known to have been affected by the virus in some way. Allen, tackle Andrew Whitworth and linebacker Terrell Lewis tested positive for it before the season; practice-squad defensive tackle Michael Hoecht was on the reserve list in training camp, and tackle Chandler Brewer opted out of playing this season because he would be at heightened risk as a cancer survivor.
At that, the Rams have been relatively unscathed compared to some other NFL teams, which have had games postponed or been forced to play with severely limited rosters.
Practice wasn’t curtailed Thursday, and there was no announcement that it would be affected Friday.
Amid the pandemic blamed for more than 300,000 deaths in the United States, the NFL has implemented serious safety protocols in its determination to complete its season, including strictly enforced measures like those recommended in the nation at large and football-specific plans.
Rams players have been practicing with translucent face shields attached to their helmets since the team began intensive protocols in November.
“At first it was weird, kind of complained about it a little bit, but it is what it is,” defensive tackle Aaron Donald said before Thursday’s positive test was revealed. “We’ve got to do what we can to make sure we’re healthy and able to play come Sundays.”
McVay said it’s another chapter in a “crazy year.”
“This is totally unprecedented, and navigating through it, trying to understand all the nuances, gives me that much more of an appreciation and a respect for what the league has done and then a lot of our guys up to this point,” McVay said in his daily video conference with reporters.
“We’ve talked about having agility as a team and our players. The guys have seamlessly handled all the adjustments that we’ve had to make.”
Wide receiver Robert Woods (thigh) was listed as “limited” in practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday. Sean McVay said he expects Woods to play Sunday against the Jets. … McVay said Andrew Whitworth, on injured reserve since since injuring his left knee Nov. 15, is making progress and could be activated in time for the Rams’ final regular-season game against Arizona Jan. 3. But the coach said the left tackle’s return is more likely to come in a first-round playoff game. …
McVay answered the question of who would fill in as head coach if he ever tested positive for COVID-19. It would be inside linebackers coach Joe Barry, the former USC player and assistant whose Rams title includes “assistant head coach.” The offensive, defensive and special-teams coordinators would keep their regular duties. …
Thursday was the coldest practice day yet this season at the Rams’ facility in Thousand Oaks, in the 50s at midday. The team holds meetings in a tent to permit social distancing. “It’s cold in there, I’m not going to lie,” said Aaron Donald, who’s from Pittsburgh. It was about 30 degrees where Sunday’s opponents, the Jets, were practicing in New York.