BEREA, Ohio – Two days before their first playoff appearance in 18 years, the Cleveland Browns will finally practice.
The NFL cleared the team to practice Friday afternoon for the first time this week. The Cleveland training center had been closed since Tuesday, after head coach Kevin Stefanski and four other team members tested positive for COVID-19.
Wednesday and Thursday’s practices have been called off, with the team preparing instead from a distance for the AFC’s wild game Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“We’re going to have to build on the timing and the things we’ve been working on so far with limited reps,” said wide receiver Jarvis Landry after Thursday’s practice was canceled. “We can’t use this as an excuse. We can’t use this as something that’s going to get in our way. We just have to find a way.”
The Browns, clearly shorthanded, will have to find a way on Sunday. Stefanski, Pro Bowl goalie Joel Bitonio, security Ronnie Harrison and potentially several other key players will not be traveling to Pittsburgh due to COVID-19 protocols.
All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin missed Friday’s practice due to illness and is considered questionable for Sunday’s game. Defensive end Myles Garrett (shoulder) and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (neck) are also listed as questionable, but Stefanski said he’s confident they will play against the Steelers.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will serve as interim head coach on Sunday, while offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will call the games for Stefanski.
All Browns players tested Thursday and Friday are negative, with only assistant offensive line coach Scott Peters, who missed last Sunday’s game as a high-risk close contact, tested positive for COVID-19, has a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Earlier this week, tight ends assistant Drew Petzing and defensive back coach Jeff Howard tested positive for the virus. And last Sunday against the Steelers, the Browns were without offensive lineman Bill Callahan and without receivers coach Chad O’Shea, who tested positive last week.
O’Shea is back with the squad on Friday, but Callahan and the other assistants who have tested positive will not be coaching on Sunday.
Ryan Cordell will take on the offensive line coach duties in Callahan’s absence, while Callie Brownson will coach tight ends and Brandon Lynch coach defensive backs.
Instead of traveling to Pittsburgh as they normally do, the Browns will fly after Saturday’s walkthrough to reduce the risk of additional COVID-19 issues.
“They are a fighting team,” Van Pelt said Thursday. “It’s a tough team.… I feel really good to take whoever stays over there to Pittsburgh. I know you will get it. [our] better.”