NEW ORLEANS (AP) – New Orleans Saints quarterback Ian Book has said that due to the unpredictability of COVID-19, he and his fellow reserve QB Trevor Siemian have embraced the motto : “Stay ready”.
Now, due to a COVID-19 outbreak infecting at least 15 Saints players and several coaches, Book is poised to see just how ready he really is.
The Notre Dame rookie took snaps in practice Friday as New Orleans’ No.1 QB and is set to make his regular-season NFL debut as a starter against the Miami Dolphins at the Superdome on Monday night .
“It’s an incredible opportunity,” Book said Friday night. “I don’t know what it will be like. I’ve played in big games, but I think it’s obviously the biggest. We’re professionals now and it’s Monday night football.
Book, who has been inactive for the first 14 games of his career, thought he would play when Saints regular quarterback Taysom Hill called on Thursday to inform him he had tested positive for COVID- 19. Siemian had also tested positive shortly before Hill, leaving Book as the only active QB on the list.
“I did the math pretty quickly there,” Book said.
New Orleans hired veteran Blake Bortles on Friday, but coach Sean Payton said the plan remained for Book to begin.
It’s also possible that Hill or Siemian could test the COVID-19 protocols in time to be activated Monday evening, but Book said he couldn’t afford to consider that possibility.
“I plan to play,” Book said. “You can’t just flip that switch on Monday morning, trying to get ready. It doesn’t work that way, especially at quarterback.”
When Book receives read calls in the earpiece of his headset, the voice he hears will be Payton’s. The coach returned to training on Friday after his own fight with COVID-19 forced him to self-isolate for about a week and miss the team’s victory in Tampa Bay on Sunday night.
While Payton said Book throws well and appears to be a good ‘student of the game’, he also stressed that it is up to the coaches and the whole team to help Book build on his strengths and get down to business. ‘easy.
“Obviously you’ve got a new quarterback, but it’s more than just a quarterback,” Payton said. “It’s everyone who paints the right image, we play well in the kicking game and in defense.
“He’s going to be fine. He is excited about the opportunity, ”added Payton. “It’s up to us to give him the right things about the game and where we are offensively.”
The timing seems fortuitous for Book. His family is visiting for Christmas, including a brother who attended the Army training camp at Fort Benning, Ga. They are all planning to attend the game, as is Book’s former Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, who left the Irish at the end of college football’s regular season to take over at LSU.
And Books’ first chance also comes after months of seeing and studying how Payton’s offensive is supposed to work. Whenever there was a snap in practice or a game, Book noted, “I have to take it mentally.”
Payton said he’s not worried about Book’s balance – not after all the big games he’s played in for Notre Dame, where Book has won a school record of 30 games in four seasons.
“He played in some real big games and he did it consistently – if you measure wins and losses – better than any quarterback in Notre Dame history,” Payton said. “Obviously there is a transition to this level, but I think he’s up to the challenge.”
The Saints players have also offered enthusiastic support, Book said. Injured Saints quarterback Jameis Winston, who started seven games before an ACL tear ended his season, wrote Book a “good note.” Hill and Siemian offered advice over the phone.
“I have this whole team behind me,” Book said. “I feel like all of these guys are supporting me and just hearing everyone, how excited they are that I have a chance, that’s pretty cool.”
Of course, the same virus outbreak that gave Book the opportunity has also stolen the roster of several top players this week, including linebacker and defensive captain Demario Davis, safety Malcolm Jenkins and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk. But Book doesn’t look confused.
“There’s a million excuses out there, that’s what I would say, and we won’t use any,” Book said. “I just have to go out there and play, have fun. It’s football.”
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