Jackson tests positve for COVID, Watson arrives to camp


OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) – The coronavirus pandemic is still affecting the Baltimore Ravens. Star quarterback Lamar Jackson tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the team’s first practice of training camp.

Coach John Harbaugh announced Jackson’s positive test after practice Wednesday and said running back Gus Edwards also tested positive. He would not go into much more detail about either case or say how long Jackson or Edwards would be out.

“It’s just part of the deal. It’s just the way the world is right now,” Harbaugh said. “We have 90% vaccinated, and I think we’re going to go above that, too, real soon here. So we’re in really great shape with the vaccinations.”

Jackson missed one game last season, in Week 12, when he also tested positive for the novel coronavirus. That game at Pittsburgh – originally scheduled for Thanksgiving – was postponed three times before it was finally played on a Wednesday in December. The Ravens didn’t practice for over a week, and their number of players on the reserve/COVID-19 list grew to more than 20. They lost that game to the Steelers, then won five in a row to end the regular season.

“You can obviously get COVID and then get it again,” Harbaugh said. “That’s kind of been demonstrated.”

Harbaugh said Jackson tested negative until Tuesday.

Jackson, who won MVP honors in 2019, is entering his fourth season with Baltimore. He threw for 2,757 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season. He’s also rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons.

Baltimore won a playoff game with Jackson for the first time last season, but the Ravens were then eliminated at Buffalo.

Edwards signed a contract extension through 2023 this offseason. He ran for 723 yards last season, helping the Ravens rank first in the NFL in rushing for a second consecutive year.

There’s been talk this offseason that Jackson, along with fellow 2018 draftees Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen, could be due for a big new contract. Jackson isn’t due to become an unrestricted free agent until 2023, however. So there may not be an urgency to finish an extension.

A more pressing concern is the time he could miss at a crucial training camp. For all of Jackson’s ability, the Ravens finished dead last in 2020 in yards passing per game. Baltimore added more receiving talent in the offseason, acquiring Sammy Watkins and drafting Rashod Bateman in the first round.

Now the Ravens are without a couple key offensive players.

“I trust every man in the building to take care of one another, so when hiccups like this happen, all we can do is rally around that guy,” receiver Marquise Brown said. “Send our prayers, send our support, and hopefully he’ll be back very soon.”

Tyler Huntley and Trace McSorley combined to throw 15 passes last season for the Ravens.

“It’s only going to bolster those two guys and make those guys stronger than they would have been otherwise,” Harbaugh said. “That helps our team.”

There were fans in attendance Wednesday, and Harbaugh’s post-practice session with reporters took place in person next to the field. That itself was a sign that 2021 is different from last season, when video conferences were the norm throughout sports.

“We had a tough year. It’s so awesome to be through that — to a pretty good degree,” Harbaugh said. “Not completely, but here we are at least. We’re standing on the patio and we’re talking about training camp practice.”

As long as his starting quarterback remains out, however, it’s a reminder that COVID-19 can loom over a team’s prospects for the upcoming season.

Watson

Deshaun Watson was on the field for the start of training camp with the Houston Texans on Wednesday.

The future of the quarterback is uncertain after he asked for a trade in January before 22 women filed lawsuits alleging that he sexually assaulted or harassed them in March. Houston police and the NFL are investigating the allegations, but no charges have been filed.

Watson still wishes to be traded and reported to training camp solely to avoid being fined. He would have faced fines of $50,000 a day if he didn’t report. 

Watson wore his red No. 4 jersey over a gray hoodie with sweatpants as he went through individual drills with the rest of the quarterbacks as practice began on Wednesday. He chatted with teammates and coaches during breaks in the action. 

Watson declined an interview request through a team spokesman. No reason was provided, but it’s possible he has been advised by his lawyer not to speak to reporters while the lawsuits re ongoing. 

General manager Nick Caserio spoke before practice and was evasive when questioned about Watson’s status with the team.

“It’s a day-to-day endeavor,” Caserio said. “We’re going to take the information. We’re going to process that. We’re respectful of everybody and everything that’s involved. So we’ll kind of take it one day at a time. And ultimately we’re going to do what we feel is best for Houston Texans.” 

Caserio and new coach David Culley insisted that Watson was not a distraction to the team. 

“He has not been a distraction at all,” Culley said. “He’s been very professional about everything, just like all the guys have been here.”

Culley deflected most other questions about Watson, including if he expects him to be on the roster when the season begins and if he’ll take snaps with the first team during camp. 

“Right now we’re in training camp and... there are no starters right now, everybody’s competing for a job,” Culley said. 

The NFL released a statement regarding Watson on Tuesday that although its “review of the serious allegations against Deshaun Watson remains ongoing and active,” there were no restrictions on his participation in team activities. 

Watson led the NFL in yards passing last season and signed a four-year, $156 million contract extension with the Texans last offseason. But he became unhappy with the direction of the team and requested a trade in January after the Texans, who won the AFC South in 2018 and ‘19, sank to 4-12 last season.

Caserio signed veteran Tyrod Taylor to a one-year deal in March to give the team an insurance policy at quarterback if Watson can’t or won’t play this season. The Texans selected Stanford’s Davis Mills in the third round of this year’s draft, and he and Jeff Driskel, a recent free agent signee, will likely compete to back up Taylor if Watson isn’t an option.

Watson did not line up at quarterback during the team portion of practice, instead standing on the sideline while Taylor, Mills and Driskel ran the offense in those periods. But at one point in practice Watson changed from his No. 4 jersey into No. 23 and lined up as a safety on defense during a scout team drill. 

Culley said Watson was held out of 11-on-11 work as he gets acclimated to the team after missing all of the offseason programs. 

“We don’t want to get into the situation where we’re having him do something that he’s not ready to do right now,” Culley said. “We decided that the individual period was the period that we could get him in where nothing happens.”

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