Bowles: Colts starters are putting the season at risk with vaccination status

Indianapolis Colts Head Coach, Frank Reich interviews Pro Football Focus Host, Mike Florio Feb. 28, 2020, in Indianapolis. Reich has been the Colts head coach since 2018. Jacob Musselman, DN
Indianapolis Colts Head Coach, Frank Reich interviews Pro Football Focus Host, Mike Florio Feb. 28, 2020, in Indianapolis. Reich has been the Colts head coach since 2018. Jacob Musselman, DN

Charleston Bowles is a junior journalism news major and writes for The Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper. 

The vaccine shot is a personal decision.

However, if you’re not vaccinated, you’re putting others at risk. 

That is the circumstance for the Indianapolis Colts, who are around 75% vaccinated— one of the lowest vaccination rates in the National Football League.

At the start of training camp, Head Coach Frank Reich, who is fully vaccinated, was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list after a positive test. He missed the entire first week of camp. Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, who is also fully vaccinated, missed the first two preseason games after a positive test. Both were asymptomatic.

Three Colts starters — quarterback Carson Wentz, center Ryan Kelly and wide receiver Zach Pascal were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Aug. 30.

In total, nine Colts players have been put on the Reserve/COVID-19 list since training camp began.  

For the vaccinated players that come into close contact with a positive test, the league requires the vaccinated player to test for five consecutive days — rather than quarantine for that period, which the unvaccinated have to.  

Wentz, who had already missed the majority of training camp to foot surgery, is unvaccinated. Therefore, the earliest he can return to practice is Monday, Sept. 6, which is six days from the Colts’ season opener against the Seattle Seahawks. That timetable gives Wentz roughly a week of full practice before he steps foot on Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time. 

The former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback spent months training with his new teammates but has yet to take part in a full, live padded practice since arriving in Indianapolis. That should be concerning for Colts fans, especially after Wentz’s regression as a player in 2020.

Unvaccinated players must be tested daily, including off-days. For example, if the Colts play Sunday and receive Monday off from practice, the unvaccinated members of the team must travel to the facility to undergo testing Monday. Meanwhile, vaccinated players have to be tested every two weeks.

Offensive guard Quenton Nelson returned from his five-day absence Aug. 30 after coming into close contact with Eric Fisher — who tested positive last week. Nelson, a 3x All-Pro, has been the stallworth of the Indianapolis offensive line since being drafted sixth overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. If he were to miss time in the regular season, the Colts would be at a noticeable disadvantage.                                                                                                                                  

We saw an example of the trouble this could spell last season against the Tennessee Titans in Week 12. Defensive tackle Deforest Buckner and running back Jonathan Taylor — who identified as close contacts during the week — were ruled out of the game. The Colts allowed a season-high 234 rushing yards in a 45-26 loss, which ultimately cost them a chance at winning the AFC South. 

The NFL has made it clear they will not reschedule games in light of an organization's COVID outbreak. This could put several games, and quite frankly, the season, in jeopardy. If the trend continues, Indianapolis could be at a competitive disadvantage due to its players’ reluctance to get vaccinated.

Contact Charleston Bowles with comments at clbowles@bsu.edu or on Twitter @cbowles01.

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