NASHVILLE — Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson made a plea Thursday for people to get the "life-saving" COVID-19 vaccination as his team's virus outbreak grew to nine people, including starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
"We've had two people that I know personally that have lost loved ones over the last couple of days to COVID from symptoms and complications," Robinson said. "And it's a lifesaving vaccine."
Robinson said Tannehill — who practiced Tuesday and talked to reporters afterward — tight end Geoff Swaim and linebacker Justin March-Lillard have joined four teammates already on the NFL's COVID-19 reserve list, which is for players who either test positive for the virus or are in quarantine after close contact with an infected person. Tannehill's addition to the list means three Tennessee starters are out as the end of the preseason approaches.
The Titans, who have won road exhibitions against the Atlanta Falcons, 23-3, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 34-3, are scheduled to play their only home game of the preseason at 7 p.m. Eastern on Saturday against the Chicago Bears (1-1). Tennessee will host the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 12 to kick off the regular season.
Coach Mike Vrabel revealed Thursday afternoon on a Zoom session with reporters that special teams coordinator Craig Aukerman also has been affected, missing the past two days of work, and likely won't be available for Saturday's game.
Robinson said the Titans are close to being either 97% or 98% vaccinated or with antibodies present, indicating a person recently or previously had COVID-19. Tannehill said at the start of training camp that he was in the process of being vaccinated.
The Titans beat the Bucs on Saturday night after two days of joint practices with the reigning Super Bowl champions. The number of positive COVID-19 cases have been rising in both Florida and Tennessee.
Vrabel announced Sunday that he had tested positive for the virus that morning. On Thursday, the fourth-year head coach said he is proud of his team's vaccination rate and that being vaccinated appears to have helped ease his symptoms as well as those of Tennessee players who have the virus.
"It is important because there is no failsafe," said Vrabel, who has also received monoclonal antibodies treatment for the virus. "We've proven that. All we can try to do is maximize our ability to stay safe, to function as a team, to keep our families safe, to do our jobs and do them well."
NFL and NFL Players Association protocols require someone who tested positive to have two negative tests over 48 hours or face a 10-day minimum quarantine. Vrabel will miss Saturday's game because he has yet to test negative even once.
Journeyman quarterback Matt Barkley, who signed with the team Aug. 5, will start against the Bears and rotate with Logan Woodside every two series as they compete to back up Tannehill.
Tennessee stepped up precautions and required masks inside the team's headquarters starting Tuesday. Robinson said the Titans are going "above and beyond" what they did last season, when they had the NFL's first virus outbreak.
The GM's oldest daughter, Taylor, has several autoimmune issues, including Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Robinson talked about seeing the spread of the virus in the state.
"My sister's a school teacher back in Union City, and she said it's rampant in their school and they're doing everything they can ," Robinson said. "I think everybody's doing everything they can to try to help it. And the biggest thing is the vaccination, because it does save lives."
Being vaccinated made him feel safe going out to dinner while in Florida last week.
"If you do contract it and you're vaccinated, it looks like the science has shown that you're sick for a day or two and then you're going to get through that," Robinson said. "So there's comfort in going out to dinner and trying to get back to some degree of normalcy, which we all want to do. And I know that the vaccine helps."
Tennessee reserve offensive lineman Kendall Lamm has asthma and said he has been vaccinated because he wants to live a long life and have a family and children.
"The protocols and stuff they do here, they're on it," Lamm said of the Titans. "They're on it top notch and I truly appreciate that, because for someone who has asthma, it lets me sleep better at night.
Linebacker Harold Landry was the first starter affected by the team's current outbreak, going on the COVID-19 reserve list Wednesday. Linebacker Nick Dzubnar, running back Jeremy McNichols and defensive lineman Anthony Rush are also on the list.
Also of note: Tampa Bay kicker Ryan Succop will miss his team's preseason finale against the Houston Texans on Saturday after testing positive for the virus.
Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said Tuesday that the positive test came after Succop had dinner in Tampa with some friends who play for the Titans. Succop played six seasons with Tennessee before joining the Bucs last season.
"He went out to dinner, an indoor dinner, with some of his friends from the Titans," Arians said. "He's vaccinated, but it's still probably going to be 10 days."
Vrabel spent time after a practice last week with Arians and Bucs quarterback Tom Brady, Vrabel's teammate when he was a linebacker for the New England Patriots. Arians said there's no concern about that interaction because it occurred outdoors.