Source: Saints RBs ruled out as Kamara contacts

  • Covered Saints for eight years at New Orleans Times-Picayune
  • Previously covered LSU football, San Francisco 49ers
  • Iowa native and University of Iowa graduate

METAIRIE, La. — Replacing Alvin Kamara will be even harder for the New Orleans Saints on Sunday after their running backs room was ruled out as a COVID-19 precaution, a source confirmed to ESPN.

The source said backups Latavius Murray and Dwayne Washington, fullback Michael Burton and running backs coach Joel Thomas have been ruled out against the Carolina Panthers because they were deemed close contacts to Kamara, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, a source previously told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

None of the other running backs tested positive, according to the source, and are expected back with the team next week. Kamara cannot return before next Sunday since he tested positive — putting his status for New Orleans’ playoff opener in jeopardy, unless the team can clinch a first-round bye.

To get the bye, in addition to a win of their own, the Saints would need the Chicago Bears to defeat the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks to defeat the San Francisco 49ers.

Against the Panthers, the Saints will likely lean heavily on WR/former RB Ty Montgomery, versatile quarterback Taysom Hill and rookie practice squad running back Tony Jones Jr., among others.

Fox Sports first reported on the additional running backs being ruled out.

The Saints (11-4) were on the other side of a similar situation earlier this season when they defeated a Denver Broncos team that was without its entire quarterback room in a 31-3 rout.

New Orleans will also be without nickel safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson on Sunday after he was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list this week. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis also was away from the team this week as a precaution due to a high-risk close contact.

This is the largest number of COVID-related absences the Saints have had all season. Before this week, they had placed six players on the reserve/COVID-19 list: left tackle Terron Armstead, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, quarterback Jameis Winston, offensive lineman Derrick Kelly II, cornerback Ken Crawley and Washington.

The Saints will need to get creative on offense Sunday since they are also without three of their top receivers on injured reserve — Michael Thomas (ankle), Tre’Quan Smith (ankle) and Deonte Harris (neck). Thomas is expected to return in time for New Orleans’ playoff opener and Harris could return next week as well.

New Orleans has relied on its running game more than usual this season, in part because of injuries to Thomas and quarterback Drew Brees.

The Saints are averaging the most rushing yards per game (140.6) and fewest passing yards per game (237.8) in the Brees/Sean Payton era. And they are on pace to run for more yards as a team (currently 2,109) than they have since 1983.

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