There's been no such thing as normal this season, but the Browns are back to the closest version of it.
After consecutive weeks of disjointed and uncertain practice schedules due to positive COVID-19 tests, Cleveland was back in its facility Wednesday and went through its first practice of the week. The Browns hope to do it again Thursday and Friday as they prepare for Sunday's AFC Divisional Round matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs.
"Going to have to have a great week of practice," coach Kevin Stefanski said, "and that starts today."
The roster is also growing instead of shrinking.
CBs Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson were activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list, leaving just two players (G Joel Bitonio and WR KhaDarel Hodge) on the list after as many as eight were on it the previous week. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who has been sidelined for the past two games, was back in the building, too, and Stefanski, who received a positive COVID-19 test last Tuesday and wasn't able to be with the team in Pittsburgh on Sunday, said he was on track to return as soon as Thursday.
"Obviously, anybody coming off of this list, happy to get them back," Stefanski said. "Coach Callahan has done a great job for us all season and continued to do a great job, whether in the building or out. It is a big deal for our offense and for our offensive line to get him back out there."
The return of Ward and Johnson are a big deal for a Cleveland secondary that has battled through a constant churn of injuries and absences since the start of the season. Their activation comes on the heels of Tuesday's news of CB Robert Jackson, who started in place of Ward, going on injured reserve with a hamstring injury.
Both Ward and Johnson will be vital in an all-hands-on-deck kind of matchup against the Chiefs, who boast the NFL's top-ranked passing attack.
"We are looking forward to getting a full complement of guys," Stefanski said. "Anytime you get good players back – again, whether it be injury or the COVID list – it is always a big boost for your entire team."
"I would characterize it as day to day," Stefanski said. "Today, they are not practicing, but we will obviously treat them and see what tomorrow brings."
Conklin, who was named a first-team All-Pro last week, exited Sunday's game in the second quarter and did not return. Veteran Kendall Lamm filled his place.
Goodson, who was back on the field after missing the past two games, exited in the first half but later returned to action.
Big Gains From D'Ernest
D'Ernest Johnson has given the Browns a spark on kickoff returns in recent weeks, and Stefanski was thrilled to talk about him Wednesday.
Johnson, who took over as the Browns' top kickoff returner midway through the season, averaged 27.7 yards on his three returns Sunday and topped out at 33 yards. He had similar averages the previous week against Pittsburgh, too. That's a big increase from the Browns' regular season average of 22.1.
Asked about Johnson on Wednesday, Stefanski started his answer by saying, "I'm glad you brought him up."
"He has given us a boost in the return game, but he also does a great job on the coverage phase," Stefanski said. "He has been a great [special] teamer for us this season, not just as a returner. He is a really good teammate and is ready to go in there at a moment's notice on offense. He has given us a bunch of really, really good reps this season."