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Experienced Browns treating COVID-19 roster subtractions as 'just another obstacle in the way'

Cleveland has 18 total players on reserve/COVID-19 lists

The circumstances differ a bit, but the Browns have been here before.

That's why Cleveland's confidence hasn't wavered in the face of losing 14 players and its head coach in the last 48 hours to COVID-19. The Browns have won games while facing the daunting odds and pressures that come with last-minute roster subtractions. They've even won a playoff game without their head coach, a point Kevin Stefanski — who tested positive Wednesday — jokingly referred to when he said, "I think the guys proved last year they don't need me."

"That is where we are. We have been here before," Stefanski said. "I do not feel much different than I felt yesterday in terms of everybody has to step up depending on who is available."

Along with Stefanski and acting running backs coach Ryan Cordell, the Browns added six players to the reserve/COVID-19 lists after placing eight on the lists just one day earlier. Wednesday's crop included QB Baker Mayfield, S John Johnson III and DT Malik McDowell. In total, the Browns have 18 players sidelined on reserve/COVID-19 lists, 11 of whom are regular starters.

Stefanski said the team's morale, from his vantage point, has not been affected.

"It is just another obstacle that is in the way," Stefanski said. "We have really good leadership on this team with our players, and I really believe that they are going to focus on the task at hand." 

The Browns have yet to hold a full, traditional practice this week, and it's unclear when or if they will before Saturday's game against the Raiders. On Wednesday, the Browns broke into three different groups for walkthroughs.

Some of the Browns' contingency plans have already been enacted, including the same change of duties they deployed last year in the event Stefanski is unable to coach from the sidelines Saturday against the Raiders. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will serve as the acting head coach and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will call the offensive plays.

Other contingency plans remain at the Browns' disposal as they go through the NFL's enhanced protocols, which require daily testing for all tiered personnel, full-time masking and other measures used to stymie the spread of COVID-19.

"You have Plan A, and you have Plan B, and it is a good thing those whiteboards can be erased," Stefanski said. "We have guys on this roster who we trust. We have guys on this roster who we have been developing, who are in the meetings and are diligent about preparation. If we are calling on them this week, they will be ready, that is what they do. That is their job. Again, our job as coaches is finding out who is available to us and putting together a game plan with these guys so that these guys can go play fast, go play free and play to the best of their ability.

"That is what we have to do this week."

The Browns' 53-man roster currently stands at 42. The practice squad is at its maximum of 16 after three players were signed Wednesday. Many of the 16 have been with the Browns since training camp or the early part of the season and are expected to be called upon Saturday.

"Several of those guys who will be elevated have already played in games, either a COVID elevation or practice squad elevation before. Those guys will be ready," Priefer said. "The guys that we have, they are in every special teams meeting. They pay attention. They get coached.

"They understand their role. I think they will relish that role. They are excited about the role, and they will be ready."

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