Browns close facility, delay practice after 2 positive tests

Sports

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield leaves the field after an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Jets won 23-16. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

CLEVELAND (AP) — The Browns didn’t begin preparing for the Steelers on the field but rather via Zoom calls.

Hardly ideal before their biggest game in decades.

Cleveland had two more positive COVID-19 tests on Wednesday — including one for an assistant coach — throwing its schedule into disorder as the team gets ready to play Pittsburgh on Sunday with a spot in the playoffs riding on the outcome.

The Browns, who have nine players currently on the COVID-19 reserve list, will make the postseason for the first time since 2002 with a win.

The team has not yet identified the positive player and coach Kevin Stefanski would not reveal which of his staff members may have to miss the season finale.

After learning of the positive tests, the team closed its facility for several hours to do contact tracing and Stefanski said players were doing virtual meetings — something that has become standard in 2020.

The NFL is monitoring the Browns’ situation to determine whether the game needs to be moved.

“We will follow the medical guidance,” said Dawn Aponte, the league’s chief football administrative officer. “At this moment we are planning to play on schedule and will take it from there. As always we try to remain flexible and adaptable, and everything remains on the table. As we continue to get the info, we will address it and assess it accordingly.”

The Browns finally got league clearance to re-open their facility at 3:30 p.m.

They were scheduled to start practice at 4:30 p.m. and Stefanski said earlier it was possible the Browns will do their on-field workouts in shifts — offense and defense alternating time on the field — as they’ve had to do previously this season.

Cleveland’s COVID-19 list has been growing daily. The team is still without its top four wide receivers, starting safeties and two linebackers. Starting linebacker B.J. Goodson, whose positive test was followed last week by numerous players being ruled out of the game against the New York Jets because of close contact with him, will sit out the regular-season finale.

Three players — safeties Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph and tight end Harrison Bryant — were added to the reserve list Tuesday. Sendejo is also expected to be out Sunday.

Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said the league is investigating the rise in cases within the Browns.

“To date we don’t see any evidence of transmission within the facility,” he said. ““I don’t think it would come as a surprise for a positive test in that market. The county that the Browns play in is one of the highest for incident rates in the country.”

For Stefanski, chaos has become the norm as the Browns (10-5) have been among the teams hit hardest by the virus.

“That is 2020,” he said. “We are all prepared to adapt as necessary, really just take this thing day by day and figure out a way to make sure that we are getting our work in.”

Stefanski did not have an update on rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills, who was held out Sunday with COVID-19-like symptoms. He was briefly on the reserve list last week before being activated and then getting sick. Stefanski expects Wills back but doesn’t know when.

Stefanski said wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge and linebacker Jacob Phillips remained on schedule to return to practice Thursday as long as they test negative again.

Joseph and Bryant can return for Sunday’s game if they continue to test negative.

The Browns did have a good development, with starting right guard Wyatt Teller cleared to practice after missing two games with a sprained ankle. Cleveland’s running game hasn’t been the same without Teller.

Also, the Browns activated safety Ronnie Harrison. He’s been out since injuring his shoulder while making a tackle at Jacksonville on Nov. 29 and missing four games.

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AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner contributed to this report.

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