No team in the NFL utilizes its top three tight ends more than the Browns, but they could be without two of them Sunday against the Ravens.
Harrison Bryant, who suffered a high ankle sprain in the teams' Week 12 meeting, was ruled out Wednesday and David Njoku was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday. That leaves Austin Hooper and Miller Forristall, who was promoted from the practice squad Tuesday, as the two tight ends Cleveland, at this point, can safely expect to have available for Sunday's game.
"That is something we sit down every week and say, 'Who is available to us? Where do we want to go?'" Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Wednesday. "When you do have David, Harrison and Hoop, 13 (personnel) is a big part of who we are. If we do not have those guys, obviously, you have to pivot.
"I think there are things we can do. Those are kind of the conversations you have about what plays do we want to run and what personnel groupings do we have to be in for those plays, and then ultimately, is it worth putting a guy out there that has not done that … As coaches we just have to put a plan out there that the guys can No. 1 play to the best of their ability but also play fast and not be thinking a lot."
The Browns have yet to play a game without Hooper, Njoku and Bryant this season, and they've been omnipresent in much of what Cleveland does offensively.
Njoku leads the team with 407 receiving yards and is tied for the lead with three receiving touchdowns. Hooper has been targeted 45 times and is second on the team with 28 receptions. Bryant has 16 catches for 211 yards with four of his receptions going for 20+. And on top of all they've done in the passing game, they have all been integral blockers for a rushing offense that ranks third in the NFL with an average of 147.1 yards per game.
"It is no secret we love running trio and we love being in bigger sets," Hooper said. "It has been an advantageous personnel group for us throughout the year. That is the NFL this time of year. Some guys go down. With this state of affairs with things the past couple of years, this is something that has to be an adjustment, as well.
"It is the beauty of it – next man up. We all have to do what we have to do."
Stefanski said he was "hopeful" about Njoku potentially returning in time for Sunday's game while acknowledging "you just don't know" with how quickly a player can come off the reserve/COVID-19 list.
"We have to plan if we do not have him," Stefanski said. "If we have him, that would be great."
S Grant Delpit wasn't ready to consider the Browns' Week 12 performance against Ravens TE Mark Andrews as any kind of success.
Andrews was largely held in check throughout the game but was on the receiving end of Lamar Jackson's two biggest throws. He hauled in a highlight-reel, 39-yard catch despite being pulled to the ground and then followed it up with a 13-yard touchdown catch. Both plays came after Jackson bought an extensive amount of time with his scrambling abilities.
"We know that is (Jackson's) go-to guy," said Delpit, who recorded the first interception of his NFL career in the loss. "We did not do that great of a job of shutting him down. He still had a touchdown. We have to limit that and just make them use somebody else."
Right Tackle Update
Stefanski didn't reveal who would be the team's starting right tackle Sunday but acknowledged a decision has been made.
"We feel good about the five [starting] guys," Stefanski said.
The Browns will be without All-Pro Jack Conklin for the remainder of the season after he suffered a torn patellar tendon in the Week 12 loss at Baltimore. Blake Hance, who has started six games and filled in for Conklin after his injury, rookie James Hudson III and Michael Dunn are among the options from Cleveland's 53-man roster to replace Conklin.
"The truth is," Stefanski said, "everybody has to be ready to play because you get one play into this thing and you are thrust into the starting lineup."