Matt LaFleur dealing with roster roulette as COVID-19 ravages Packers

GREEN BAY – With COVID-19 continuing its tear through the Green Bay Packers' locker room, coach Matt LaFleur is considering how to mitigate the virus’ toll on the team’s roster.

The Packers placed offensive lineman Ben Braden, receiver Amari Rodgers, and linebackers Tipa Galeai and Ty Summers on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday. They also placed defensive lineman R.J. McIntosh on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Their inclusion to the list comes after five other players were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list in the past week: receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, cornerback Kevin King, cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles, linebacker Chauncey Rivers and practice-squad linebacker La’Darius Hamilton.

LaFleur said he has stressed the importance of “masking up” and spacing out to his players. It hasn’t prevented COVID-19 from stressing the Packers’ roster. Now, LaFleur said, he’s considering taking even more extreme measures if the virus’ spread doesn’t slow.

Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur looks on before the game against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021, at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur looks on before the game against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021, at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

“Certainly you’re trying to take every step to mitigate the risk,” LaFleur said, “especially within your building. We’re definitely going to look at how we can do that around here, just making sure that we mask up as a team when we’re inside, and then trying to keep people as spread out as possible. We’ve even contemplated potentially, if we get more of these, maybe even going to virtual meetings and then just showing up when we want to get together to go out on the field.

“We’ll look at everything, because we do know this, that the availability thing is real. When you have your football players available, I think we’re a pretty darn good football team, and we need to try to keep as many people available as possible.”

Each of the four players from their active roster placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday are backups. However, the Packers’ depth could be tested Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. Rodgers is the team’s return specialist, and there’s no obvious replacement behind him. Galeai has played well as a rotational edge rusher, recording his first career sack against Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield last week.

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LaFleur said he and general manager Brian Gutekunst have discussed potential signings to bring in reinforcements. What’s worse, LaFleur knows, is if the virus’ spread in his locker room doesn’t slow soon.

“We’ve got a plan for that,” LaFleur said. “I know that we’re going to bring in some guys and have some workouts. For the areas of concern, we will bring in some guys. I don’t think you’re ever truly OK, unless you have everybody available. That’s when you feel good, but this thing is just — you never know.

“Every time I get a text from Flea (head athletic trainer Bryan Engel), I’m always kind of holding my breath now. It’s just like, ‘All right. Who’s next?’ That’s why we’ve got to make sure that guys are trying to take every precaution that we can to make sure that we stay healthy, safe and available.”

Packers sifting through injuries

Early in the week, the Packers are still trying to finalize plans for a handful of injured players.

LaFleur said he has had discussions on whether left tackle David Bakhtiari will play this week, but no decision has been made. Bakhtiari unexpectedly was held out of practice last week after returning from arthroscopic knee surgery, the second setback in his return from a torn ACL.

“We’ve discussed that,” LaFleur said, “but nothing has been decided up to this point.”

LaFleur was similarly noncommittal when asked if the Packers planned to activate cornerback Jaire Alexander from injured reserve. The deadline to activate Alexander is Wednesday.

“We’ll see on Wednesday,” LaFleur said. “We’ll see when we get there.”

The Packers are also trying to determine whether the rest of their offensive line will get reinforcements. Right tackle Billy Turner is “working through everything” after missing the past two games because of a knee injury. The Packers might not know if he can practice until they return to the field Wednesday.

LaFleur said “there’s a chance” rookie center Josh Myers could return from injured reserve, but he gave no timeline. Myers hasn’t played since Week 6 at Chicago because of a knee injury.

Packers know benefits of home-field advantage

The Packers find themselves in a familiar position with two games left in their season.

With a win coupled by a Dallas Cowboys loss Sunday, the Packers will clinch the NFC’s top overall seed. At 12-3, they hold the tiebreaker over the 11-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (better record against common opponents) and 11-4 Los Angeles Rams (head-to-head victory).

The Cowboys hold the tiebreaker over the Packers, courtesy of a better conference record, but that will be negligible if Dallas loses this week and the Packers win. In that case, the Packers would be guaranteed to finish with a better record, regardless of what happens in their finale at Detroit.

The Packers are perhaps a bit wiser to the significance — or potential lack thereof — of home-field advantage than they were a year ago. They haven’t forgotten their NFC championship game loss to the Bucs at Lambeau Field. LaFleur says there are factors this season that preserve the importance of home-field advantage, no matter how last year ended.

“I do think it’s going to be a tremendous advantage,” LaFleur said of potentially securing the NFC’s top seed. “You’re talking about a year that’s totally different with packed stadiums. I don’t know what our attendance was for our playoff games last season, but it certainly is more impactful. And I thought our crowd did an outstanding job the other night of being loud and really supporting our team.

“That brings a lot of energy, a lot of positive energy, and I think that really translates to success on the field.”

This article originally appeared on Packers News: Matt LaFleur nervous as Green Bay Packers see COVID's impact on roster