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Browns going beyond NFL's COVID-19 protocols to keep players, coaches safe

Even during normal years, training camp is all about the details. 

The schedule is regimented and planned months in advance. The execution is imperative. Any time that's wasted is considered a missed opportunity to get better on a given day,

The dynamics of COVID-19 have taken that thinking to another level, and the Browns have entered their 2020 Training Camp with plans, backup plans and backup plans for their backup plans. They've also embraced the league's protocols to ensure the safest possible environment to protect players from COVID-19 and added even more stipulations they plan to enforce throughout the buildup to the 2020 season.

"We are ready to go and we have the protocols in place and we understand this whole thing as we get going, day in and day out, we may have to pivot," Stefanski said Thursday, "But I do believe firmly that we have a plan in place.

"We are doing things in an abundance of caution that we do not even have to do."

As he spoke Thursday, Stefanski was standing inside one of the examples — the old quarterbacks room that now serves as a one-man broadcast studio.

Browns players arrived at the facility Tuesday morning for the start of camp

From now until Aug. 9, the Browns will conduct all of their meetings virtually — the same way they did throughout the offseason program that did not allow any players inside the team's facility. This is not required by the NFL, but Stefanski said it's a decision based on the recommendations he's received from head team physician Dr. James Voos and Senior Vice President of Player Health and Development Joe Sheehan.

"The first seven to 10 days or two weeks are so critical to this," Stefanski said. "We really want to do everything in our power to make this as safe of an environment for our players."

On the field, the Browns are going one step beyond the protocols by breaking up players into "orange" and "brown" groups for their conditioning, which has already started with rookies and quarterbacks and will continue through the first two weeks of August. For walk-throughs, the team will not huddle — a small, but important gesture to keep players appropriately spaced as much as possible.

When the players clear these initial phases, training camp will start to look more like the training camps of old when the team holds its first traditional practice Aug. 14, Stefanski said.

"I have told the players this, I told the coaches this, we will not do too much too fast. Just not in anyone's best interest," Stefanski said. "There are small concessions that we have to make that put us out of our comfort zone to make sure that we are staying safe and especially early on in this thing and that is just on the advice with the medical experts."

Veteran players who pass three COVID-19 tests in a four-day span will be able to take their physical examinations inside the facility this weekend before beginning their conditioning Monday. With rookies and quarterbacks already through that phase of the protocol, Stefanski has been able to meet some of his players in-person — masks on, of course — for the first time since he was hired. 

Though he held his first, full virtual team meeting Tuesday, he'll be able to finally do the same with the majority of the roster in the coming days. There'll be a sense of relief when that happens, but Stefanski stressed "business as usual" simply won't apply to 2020 training camp in Berea and around the league.

"We're getting pretty good at this virtually," Stefanski said, "but I am looking forward to getting the guys in person."

Check out behind the scenes photos of the Browns' practice facility in Berea