BEREA, Ohio — After days of turmoil and uncertainty, the Cleveland Browns are officially back to work.
The team announced Friday it has returned to practice in Berea after its latest round of COVID-19 tests revealed no new positive cases. The club had to shut down its facility both Wednesday and Thursday after multiple players contracted the coronavirus.
The Browns have been dealing with COVID issues for more than a week, and were without six players during last Sunday's loss to the New York Jets due to either positive tests or possible exposure. Five of those players (including virtually the entire receiving core) have since been cleared and are back on the field, but the club was dealt another blow yesterday when cornerback Denzel Ward and linebacker Malcolm Smith reportedly tested positive.
"Outside of one incident, we really have not had high-risk close contacts," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "That speaks to the guys’ ability to follow the protocols."
Besides Ward and Smith, linebacker B.J. Goodson, safety Andrew Sendejo, and tight end Harrison Bryant are also out after apparently contracting the virus, and all will miss this weekend's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Safety Karl Joseph is also on the reserve/COVID-19 list after being identified as a "close contact," but could potentially be activated in time for kickoff.
The showdown with Pittsburgh is a crucial one, as Cleveland likely has to win to clinch its first playoff spot since 2002. The Steelers have already won the AFC North and will be resting numerous starters (including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and pass rusher T.J. Watt), making the Browns a heavy favorite despite suffering attrition of their own due to health issues.
While they'll be down several defenders, the Browns did get linebacker Jacob Phillips back from the COVID list Thursday. They also activated Ronnie Harrison from injured reserve after the safety missed the last four games with a shoulder injury.