Falcons’ outbreak up to 13 players on reserve/COVID-19 list

Falcons quarterback Feleipe Franks looks to pass against the Cleveland Browns during the first half in a NFL preseason football game on Sunday, August 29, 2021, in Atlanta.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Combined ShapeCaption
Falcons quarterback Feleipe Franks looks to pass against the Cleveland Browns during the first half in a NFL preseason football game on Sunday, August 29, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

UPDATE: Falcons backup offensive lineman Jason Spriggs was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday to increase the number to 13 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

FLOWERY BRANCH -- With the addition of four players Wednesday, the Falcons now have 12 players, including several key contributors and the No. 2 quarterback, on the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list.

The Falcons (7-8), with their playoffs hopes alive, are set to play Buffalo (9-6) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.

Tight end Hayden Hurst, defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard, safety Jaylinn Hawkins and practice-squad guard Willie Beavers were added to the list Wednesday.

Quarterback Feleipe Franks and nickel back Richie Grant were placed on the list Tuesday. Outside linebackers Brandon Copeland and James Vaughters, wide receiver Tajae Sharpe and inside linebacker Dorian Etheridge were placed on the reserve COVID-19 list Monday.

They joined defensive tackles Marlon Davidson and Tyeler Davison, who already were on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

“Like every week, we’ll coach the entire roster,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Wednesday. “Everybody has to be ready to go every Sunday. That hasn’t changed. We’ll deal with whatever obstacles are thrown our way. We have guys that have the right mindset.”

Because of a change in the NFL protocols, players have a better chance of returning in five days.

“We’ll have a chance,” Smith said about getting some players back. “I’ll deal with whatever realities they present to us. You take it on a case-by-case (basis). It’s not going to be one-size fits all.”

The situation has been fluid for the Falcons as guidelines have shifted and as more players elect to get tested. Hurst was outside of the testing center at the facility Wednesday and was not seen during the open portion of practice.

“Obviously, everybody that wasn’t hibernating the last 48 hours, knows that the CDC changed their protocols and the league updated theirs,” Smith said. “Like everything in life, you have to be able to adapt. There is optimism that we’ll get some guys back.”

Smith knew that more players could make the list when he talked with the media virtually in the morning.

“We’re still working through that. ... I deal with the NFL protocols that they provide for us,” Smith said. “Guys can get tested at any point. Guys may feel that they need to get tested and they should. … So it’s not like everybody has a test by 6:30 a.m. or 7 a.m. Those are still coming in, and (we’ll) update you as soon as we have them confirmed.”

The update of the four new players came later in the day after practice.

With Franks on the list, there’s a concern that quarterback Matt Ryan was exposed.

“I’ve done everything that I can from a vaccination standpoint, a booster standpoint,” Ryan said. “So, I feel good about that. Obviously, it’s spreading pretty wildly right now.”

Journeyman quarterback Matt Barkley, who released by the Panthers on Tuesday, was claimed on waivers by the Falcons late Wednesday.

Barkley, 31, was drafted in the fourth round (98th overall) of the 2013 draft out of USC.

Barkley has played 19 in NFL games and made seven starts. He’s 2-5 as a starter and has completed 212 of 363 passes (58.4%) for 2,699 yards and 11 touchdowns and 22 interceptions over nine seasons.

The Falcons have re-organized their meeting spaces over the past couple of weeks.

Ryan noted that the quarterbacks have been spaced out for most of the season and would sit in different parts of their meeting rooms. “But then as far as team meetings and offensive meetings, the rules have changed in the last weekend and this week as week as well,” Ryan said. “We’ve been spaced out in the indoor facilities and in some of our bigger team meeting rooms so that nobody is really close together.”

The NFL and NFLPA agreed to weekly testing. The Falcons were testing on Mondays. Seattle was one of the teams testing two times a week, on Monday and Wednesdays.

Now, players get tested whenever they would like.

“I know that it’s changing very rapidly,” Smith said. “Last year, it was a huge deal because of the close contacts and no vaccinations (were) available. Now, at least if somebody gets sick or they feel symptomatic ... I think what you are realizing with this variant, again I don’t want to claim that I’m any kind of expert on this. I’ve just been trying to read real medical advice and not some ... stuff on the internet.

“Clearly, we are dealing with a different variant and how contagious this is. We’ll certainly try to mitigate our risks if that’s possible. We’ve done that all year. I don’t think anybody has the perfect solution right now. That’s the one thing is painfully obvious about the omicron variant.”

The changing on the 10-day window to five days for some players gives Smith some optimism that he may bet some players back.

“But I don’t think that its fair if somebody goes on that list the same day, no two cases may be the same,” Smith said. “Somebody may be ... depending on the symptoms that they have, how quickly they may not be symptomatic or they had symptoms. You have to just take it case by case.”

With Copeland and Vaughters on the list, the Falcons are thin at outside linebacker.

Outside linebacker Quinton Bell is on the practice squad, and defensive lineman John Cominsky has been working with the outside linebackers. Defensive end Nick Thurman also is on the practice squad, and Jordan Brailford was signed to the practice squad Wednesday.

Sharpe suffered a foot injury against San Francisco and did not play against the Lions. Marvin Hall was called up from the practice squad to replace him.

Brailford, 26, who’s 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, was drafted in the seventh round (253rd overall) in the 2019 draft by Washington. He played at Oklahoma State.

He has played in five NFL games, all with Minnesota in 2020.

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