Bruce Arians has maintained one of the firmer stances on COVID-19 protocol throughout the league, and he reassured on Sunday that the team has plans in place to deal with any future instances.
“When we reconvene as the Bucs in a few days – our guys are very, very aware of the situation and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to make sure it doesn’t affect our team,” Arians said.
The soon-to-be 69-year-old head coach said last week that he’d be implementing his own team rules outside of the league’s current protocol. He stated that even vaccinated players will be barred from leaving the team hotel or having family visit the hotel on road trips.
“For us, life is not normal,” he said Wednesday. “We’re pretty much under the same protocols — we’re going to be under the same protocols as last year. Because that’s the way it is, especially living (in Florida). Tennessee coming in and going out to dinner — they found out the hard way. So did Ryan. You can only tell them so much. Once we get to 53, our guys are going to make a bunch of sacrifices that you have to make now. Families at the hotel, all those things — they’re all out the window.”
The Buccaneers are currently without a few high-profile players, as defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, kicker Ryan Succop, and offensive linemen Nick Leverett and Earl Watford all remain on the reserve/COVID list. All of them missed Saturday’s convincing victory over the Houston Texans.
The missed time is no issue for Suh, who doesn’t really need the preseason reps at this point in his career. The team just needs him to rest up and be healthy. ESPN’s Jenna Laine reported that Suh is indeed vaccinated, so his absence should be brief.
I’m told Ndamukong Suh is vaccinated as well. So all four Bucs players who have tested positive are vaccinated, meaning their returns can happen much quicker, assuming they are asymptomatic and pass two COVID tests 24 hours apart. https://t.co/JQ0eeGJS0c— JennaLaineESPN (@JennaLaineESPN) August 28, 2021
Succop, who earned a generous 3-year contract worth $12 million after his excellent work last season, had nothing to worry about either despite rookie Jose Borregales impressing in camp. The latter did get some in-game work Saturday, having an extra point blocked but otherwise doing well with two made extra points and a 36-yard field goal. The team will hope to sneak him through waivers and stash him on the practice squad.
It’s a little different story for Leverett and Watford, who are competing for that potential ninth offensive line spot as well as practice squad consideration. Leverett has made waves for his versatility and effort, but you always want to maximize possible opportunities to leave little doubt. Watford was likely headed for waivers unless he had an absurdly good performance or the team saw more injuries. He’ll likely stay on Tampa’s radar throughout the season whether he remains on the roster now or not.
With more than 10 days until the opener, there should be little concern about having these players back in time. For now, Arians has confidence in his team governing themselves smartly during their extended break.
“Our guys are very, very smart on who to be with, where to be and how to handle themselves,” he said. “Whether or not they go to restaurants and those type of things, we’ll talk about that at a later date.”
The team also does not plan to install another mask mandate given their high vaccination rate, about 98%, but Arians did say they will go back to spacing out team gatherings.
“We’re definitely going back to last year’s meetings, where we’re all spread out,” he said. “Because our facility’s so good, we can do that. That’s the biggest thing as far as masks. Until I’m ready to wear one, then I won’t require anyone else to wear one.”
It will be a careful balancing act all season, but the Bucs managed to mostly avoid serious COVID issues all throughout last year. Devin White did have to miss the Wild Card game, but Ronald Jones missed several games as well, but the depth managed to minimize those temporary losses.