Joe Judge always is searching for a reason to be optimistic about an injured player’s chance to play in the next game.
The Giants head coach can’t find one with running back Saquon Barkley, who spent his second consecutive day away from the team’s facility while in the COVID-19 protocol. Barkley missed the previous three games with a sprained ankle, and Sunday was circled as a possible return to action before this latest complication all but ruled out that possibility.
“Not having him available to be here with the trainers on a regular basis and seeing if we can get him into practice … I couldn’t say that it’s moving in a direction to give us a definite answer in a positive way,” Judge said. “A little bit of lost time does affect you. Not having the full morning available for treatment, strength training or whatever is going to get your body back does affect you.”
The Giants held all team meetings virtually and closed the office to non-football staff Thursday, the third day of a COVID-19 scare that began with 13 positive rapid-test results. Only running backs coach Burton Burns retested positive through the more precise PCR testing, and he will not be at Sunday’s game against the Raiders, according to Judge.
Barkley and safety Xavier McKinney participated remotely, but remained held out of Thursday’s practice after receiving two positive rapid-test results apiece (Tuesday and Wednesday), but a negative follow-up PCR result Wednesday. They are awaiting further results to determine if the original was a false positive. Running back Gary Brightwell also was added to the COVID-19 list.
Left guard Matt Skura was cleared to return to practice after missing one day because he received only one positive rapid-test result. He tested negative via both methods Wednesday and again on his PCR test Thursday.
“Bio-Reference Laboratories is experiencing an unusually high number of false positives under the Rapid Mesa Test at our facility,” the Giants said in a statement. “With the exception of one individual, all of the positive Mesa test results over the last two days have come back negative through PCR testing. The laboratory is working with experts to determine the source of the problem.”
Barkley is vaccinated and could return to the field as early as Friday, but he hasn’t participated in individual drills since before he rolled his ankle Oct. 10 against the Cowboys.
“You don’t know if he’s got the virus or not, so in terms of what the trainers are [virtually] doing with them, that’s kind of between those guys,” Judge said. “Anyone who’s in the virtual meetings, it’s not much more exciting than [a Zoom call]. He’s not up doing rehab while we’re talking.
“But for that two-hour period we had this morning, he was fully involved, he was part of the game plan, he’s listening to what’s going on — the systems, the checks, the adjustments, the things specific to the Raiders that we have to be alert for.”
McKinney’s vaccination status is unclear, but he wears a mask outside when meeting with media, as is required for the unvaccinated. Unlike Barkley, McKinney is not injured, so he could play Sunday without much rust if his test results are determined to be false-positives.
The Giants scrapped rapid testing Thursday after another rash of positives. Two BioReference vans parked outside the testing center were proof of the quick extra step taken to resolve the matter.
“It was a pretty solid number,” Judge said. “It wasn’t like a quick glance-over number.”
So, why weren’t more players held out of practice? Because PCR tests returned negative results and they trump the rapid results.
“I’ve told the coaches we could get to Sunday morning and they could tell us we lost a dozen people,” Judge said. “I don’t want to hear any excuses: Have the next guy ready to go, have a game plan ready that includes changing personnel, changing scheme. Whatever we have to do, be very fluid in this. That’s our job as coaches, make sure we have the best plan available regardless of who’s available.”
Judge revealed that earlier this season he was deemed a close contact under the protocol. Because he is vaccinated, he was required to wear a mask indoors for five consecutive days, but went about other business as usual.
“The unvaccinated player,” Judge said, “is going to have to go through a lot more strenuous steps to get back in the building.”
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