CHARLOTTE — When offensive lineman Chris Reed found out he'd tested positive for COVID-19, he needed to go into isolation. But that's difficult to do when your wife is in the middle of her pregnancy.
"The moment that gets me is when we confirmed it positive, I had to go back and get stuff to go to the hotel," Reed recalled Thursday. "She's standing in the back of the house. I can't hug her, can't do anything like that."
Reed has since recovered and started his first game for the Panthers at left guard in Week 3. But the three weeks he spent on the reserve/COVID-19 list starting September 1 was not easy.
Reed tested positive just before training camp ended. That was a critical time for the six-year pro. After entering the league as an undrafted free agent with the Jaguars and spending four years with the franchise, Reed signed with the Dolphins as a free agent in 2019. When Miami waived him in December, Carolina took a flier by claiming him. He appeared in the Panthers' final three games on special teams.
As a player ostensibly on the bubble, going on the COVID list so close to the start of the season was not ideal. Reed thought it might cost him a roster spot.
"With this year being as it is, camp is everything. You don't have OTAs, you don't have preseason games," Reed said. "Luckily, I feel like I had one of the best camps of my career, so that helped me."
Reed's strong August was a product of his experience and an immediate comfortability with the new coaching staff.
"I wanted to let go and just play the game and get rid of the anxiety I sometimes had with playing football and if I'm going to make the team or not," Reed said. "I really felt like I could be myself and really play the way that I play and work within the system. … I think that environment really did help facilitate me playing well."
But then came the virus. Because Reed's wife is pregnant, he stayed at a hotel near Bank of America Stadium. He couldn't leave his room. He couldn't even hug his wife, Anna, as they said goodbye.
"That was probably the hardest part for me, was not being able to comfort her because both of us were stressed out at the time. We just didn't know what was going to happen," Reed said. "I was fortunate enough to get past everything."
It was also fortunate that Anna did not contract the virus.
"That was probably my No. 1 priority, and Matt Rhule and the Panthers did an awesome job getting her tested, asking if we needed anything," Reed said.
Reed did have symptoms but said the biggest struggle was the mental aspect of being away from his family and the team. Because he was in isolation, Reed and his wife delayed their child's gender reveal until he got out of the hotel. Then they found out they were having a baby girl.
Reed's start against the Chargers was only the 10th of his career, and he played next to a pair of different tackles — Greg Little and Trent Scott —with starter Russell Okung out with a groin injury. But the offensive line played well enough to win.
"As an offensive unit, with guys coming in and the left side being newer, I thought we played well together," Reed said.
Part of that may have been Reed's willingness to share his story with the club. Cornerback Rasul Douglas on Monday mentioned Reed as one of the players who made an impact during a team meeting last week.
"I thought it was a great idea," Reed said. "The want to go out and play for each other is a big thing. I think it was a great idea by Rasul, and I honestly think it did work and is currently working."
Left guard Dennis Daley was back at practice Wednesday, so there's no guarantee Reed starts again in Week 4. But if nothing else, he seems grateful to have made it through his bout with COVID-19 and that he's no longer dealing with it alone.
"Luckily, I'm healthy now, and I'm excited to get back to football," Reed said.
NEWS AND NOTES
— On a conference call with Charlotte media Wednesday morning, Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said he's impressed with the Panthers' defensive improvement from Week 1 to Week 3.
"You can tell they're understanding the scheme," Kingsbury said. "They give you multiple looks, and everybody gets involved."
— Kingsbury and Panthers head coach Matt Rhule competed against one another in the Big 12 when Kingsbury was Texas Tech's head coach and Rhule was at Baylor. Kingsbury's final game at Texas Tech was a 35-24 loss to Baylor in November 2018.
"He's a phenomenal coach, even better person, too. He's one of my favorite people I've met in coaching," Kingsbury said. "He literally texted me an hour after the game when it came out I was fired and said, 'Hey man, I'm sorry about that.' And was genuine about it, I mean really felt bad that I lost my job because they beat us."
"He's a great guy. I was sad for him when he got fired. I thought he was a great coach and had done a lot of great things at Texas Tech. But I considered him a friend and a guy that I really liked and liked being around."
— Last week, the Panthers practiced later in the afternoon on Thursday to help prepare for the later body clock start time on the West Coast. While Sunday's game will kick off at 1:00 p.m. ET, Rhule elected to keep the late start for this Thursday's session.
"I liked the effect that had on our team," Rhule said. "Guys were able to maybe take their kids to school, guys were able to come in a little later. I liked the recovery aspect it provided for our team. And honestly, I think it helped the coaches. It gave them a little more time to get ready for that Thursday practice."
— The Titans' COVID-19 outbreak has shut down in-person activities for the organization until at least Saturday. That's added an element of urgency around the league to ensure teams don't get complacent with protocols.
"We do kind of all have to be our brother's keeper as we go through this year and make sure we're safe so that when we step on the field on Sunday, we can keep the other team safe," Rhule said.