In the days since their heartbreaking, Christmas Day loss to the Packers, the Browns have gotten 10 players stronger.
Since Monday, the Browns have activated a total of 12 players from the reserve/COVID-19 list, 11 of whom reverted back to the active, 53-man roster. They've placed just one — LB Elijah Lee — on the list during that time, giving them their deepest roster since an outbreak decimated their depth on both sides of the ball heading into their Week 15 game with the Raiders.
The activated players — which includes key starters such as DE Jadeveon Clowney, CB Greg Newsome II, S Ronnie Harrison Jr., DT Malik McDowell and C JC Tretter — went through their first practice Thursday as the Browns resumed their on-field preparations for Monday's must-win game in Pittsburgh.
The timing couldn't be better, as the Browns need a win Monday — and some help Sunday — to extend their playoff hopes to the final week of the regular season.
"Getting guys back from injury and getting guys back off the COVID list, it is always good to work them back in and see where they are," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "I think that is important with all these guys that are coming back. We need to put our eyes on them, put them through workouts, put them through rehab, see where they are and then plan their role accordingly."
The Browns now have just three players — LB Tony Fields II, T Alex Taylor and Lee — on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Two others — QB Nick Mullens and S Tedric Thompson — are on the practice squad/COVID-19 list.
Check out exclusive photos from the practice fields at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus of the Browns preparing for their Week 17 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers
Hunt, Hill, Johnson Not Ruled Out
Stefanski was not yet ready to rule out any of the team's injured players for Monday's game.
That includes RB Kareem Hunt (ankle) and CB Troy Hill (knee), who suffered their respective injuries Week 14 against the Ravens and were on the reserve/COVID-19 list for the team's past two games. It also includes S John Johnson III, who missed last week's game with a hamstring injury. None of the three players practiced Thursday.
The return of Hunt, in particular, would be a big boost for a Browns offense that had its best efforts of the season with the talented, versatile running back at the center of it all.
"I think all of those guys are different," Stefanski said. "If you do not have (RB) Nick (Chubb), you are not going to replace Nick. If you do not have Kareem, you are not going to replace Kareem, per se. These guys are great players. Kareem has a different style than each one of those guys. They all have their own flavor in terms of how they run and how they play. Certainly, Kareem's style fits what we do. If we are able to get him back, we look forward to utilizing him."
Garrett Back At Practice
Pro Bowl DE Myles Garrett was a limited participant at Thursday's practice after laboring through last week's game with a groin injury.
Garrett did not participate in practice in the days leading up to the loss to Green Bay.
"He was not feeling 100 percent," Stefanski said. "What that percentage was, I am not entirely sure, but he certainly was not the 100 percent version of Myles we have seen this season."
Stefanski remembered the year — 1993 — when he played his first game of "Madden." There were many, many more that followed.
The legacy left by the game's inspiration, John Madden, has been a topic all week as the NFL mourns his passing.
"It was just such a big part of our childhood growing up and playing with your friends. He was ubiquitous in all of that," Stefanski said. "As a commentator, he was a lot of times doing those NFC games for FOX so growing up an Eagles fan, anytime you heard Madden and (Pat) Summerall, you knew it was a big game. Certainly, he was definitely on in the background of my life, and obviously, what he has meant to our game, I do not know if anybody has had a bigger impact on our game."