FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The Jets began warming up for practice Friday afternoon inside their fieldhouse. Merry Christmas music was blaring over the speakers. But this team hasn’t been having a merry time, between 11 losses in 14 tries and COVID-19 blaring now, too.
Eighteen players, including five on the practice squad, are on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Coach Robert Saleh also missed the Christmas Eve day practice after also staying clear the previous two days. He tested positive for the virus Wednesday and has been quarantining at a nearby hotel.
Saleh said via Zoom from there Friday that he’s feeling "good" and that he’s holding out hope he can coach Sunday’s game against Jacksonville at MetLife Stadium. He sounded as if he were listing himself as doubtful, though. He needs to start passing COVID tests.
"I took my test [Friday] morning," Saleh said. "I’ve got to get two negatives. That would be today and [Saturday]. We’re proceeding as if I’m not coaching on Sunday. If I do come up with two negatives, it will be an easy adjustment. But we’re operating as if I will not be there Sunday."
Not only has Saleh been out with COVID, but his family has been hit with an outbreak as well.
"Four of my little ones have COVID — knock on wood, symptom-free," Saleh said.
He said he spoke with Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, who returned Wednesday after missing Monday’s loss to Las Vegas because he also had tested positive for COVID. Stefanski told him sitting out Sunday’s game "is going to be miserable."
"So I’m looking for misery," Saleh said with a laugh.
Saleh has been in on meetings virtually. He picked tight ends coach Ron Middleton to serve as the acting head coach.
"I’ve always wanted to be a head coach," Middleton said. "I just appreciate Robert giving me this opportunity to get a taste of it. It’s been great."
Tight end Ryan Griffin, who just went on injured reserve Tuesday, was placed on the COVID list Friday. Receiver Jeff Smith and special-teamer Justin Hardee came off the list. Eight of the players still on it are considered starters. That excludes Griffin, who’s out for the season.
Asked if he expects any more players on the list to return for the game, Saleh said, "It’s not looking like it," although he was waiting to see how some tests came out.
The Jets have been hit especially hard at safety by illness and injury, and at guard by the virus.
The starting tandem at safety the last five games was former Newfield High School star Elijah Riley and Ashtyn Davis. Riley is out with a concussion suffered during last Sunday’s loss at Miami. His replacement in that game, Sharrod Neasman, is on the COVID list, as is Davis.
The Jets could use rookie Jason Pinnock at one of the spots. They have been trying to convert him from cornerback to safety.
There also are two new safeties on the active roster. Will Parks was claimed off waivers from Miami on Tuesday and Kai Nacua was signed off San Francisco’s practice squad Thursday. Nacua played in five games last season for the 49ers, who had Saleh as their defensive coordinator. The Jets also have practice squad safety Elijah Benton.
Over on the offensive line, starting guards Alijah Vera-Tucker and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif are on the COVID list, so Dan Feeney is next in line for left guard duty and Chaminade alum Greg Van Roten, who started the first nine games at right guard, could start there again.
Receiver Jamison Crowder also is doubtful with a calf injury.
Should this game be postponed for a day or two with so many Jets on the COVID list?
"It’s not my decision to make," Saleh said. "We’re preparing for Jacksonville unless somebody says otherwise."