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On the Offense

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Browns continue to roll with schedule changes, new obstacles in unique season

2020 has been all about flexibility for the Browns, and that was needed again Wednesday 

Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt wanted to lighten the mood and deliver a message before his virtual meeting Wednesday with the offense.

The Browns were met with some more unfortunate news before the day's activities started. Top cornerback Denzel Ward was ruled out for Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and players were enduring another day of virtual meetings as a result of another player's positive COVID-19 test.

So Van Pelt held up a Stretch Amrstrong action figure and, well, stretched him around. The Browns needed to be flexible and adaptable to all obstacles, and he wanted to deliver that point in a unique way before another day of virtual work began.

"I think Alex is just making a point to the offense in particular that you have to be flexible on days like this," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "We understand and we respect the nature of how things are in our country, and we are trying to make sure everybody is safe. That is first and foremost. With that, when we are on our Zoom meetings and when we are out on the practice field, we are trying to keep it light and have fun while we are getting our work in."

All of that will be crucial this week and for the rest of the season — no matter what the schedule is. 

For the offense, Wednesday's adaptation challenge was practicing without the defense even in the building. The Browns opted to bring the offense in at a separate time than the defense for lifting, individual workouts and practicing as a group out of an abundance of caution for COVID-19. 

The schedule looked more similar to what is seen at times throughout training camp than on a Wednesday in Week 12, but it's just the latest unexpected tweak the Browns have undergone to their "routines" for this season.

"It's just a part of us this year," running back Nick Chubb said. "It was odd today, but that's what we're used to this year. It's been going on the whole year — having to make time or come in later. We're all used to it. We understand that what's going on can't be controlled."

Nothing is being used as an excuse. As long as the offense can practice executing plays, they'll feel prepared for the next game. The virtual meetings have become the standard for 2020, and the Browns have rolled with them from the first time Stefanski addressed the team from a laptop screen at the beginning of training camp. 

This season has been full of curveballs, but the team has handled all of them. They're 7-3 and are in the thick of a playoff race. They've proven that schedule changes, injuries and, recently, inclement weather won't stop them from being efficient on the field.

So yes, Wednesday was weird. But weird is the new normal.

"We started off on online meetings and had to make schedule changes and everything on the fly, so this is nothing new to us," Browns QB Baker Mayfield said. "Whether it is COVID stuff or injuries, you never want to have it, but you have to deal with it, especially this year."

The odd year does present one possible silver lining, though: Players and coaches have actually felt closer as a team. Even though this season has been all about maintaining social distancing, the Browns have gone through all the hardship together. No season has ever presented as many new obstacles as this one, but the Browns have stuck together and managed to keep themselves in good positioning in the playoff race.

And that has made adjusting to the weird schedules a bit easier.

"I think it has brought everybody closer," Mayfield said. "I hit on it earlier in the year of what we did to get to know some of these guys to lay a foundation for a true team before we started this journey. I think that has carried true throughout the year. We realize to be able to adapt and deal with the uncertainties, whoever does it best is going to have the most success. I think we are only going to get stronger as the year goes on because we have been doing it the whole time."

Thursday will be weird, too — Stefanski said the schedule will be adjusted again for time off to celebrate Thanksgiving.

At this point, the schedule could be changed every day and all players and coaches will feel confident in their ability to adapt. That's just been the nature of 2020, but the Browns will keep trying to do their best Stretch Armstrong impersonation and be flexible to everything.

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