The Browns opened Tuesday by sharing unfortunate news about both of their Pro Bowl running backs.
RB Nick Chubb was ruled out of the Browns' Week 7 Thursday Night game against Denver shortly after they placed Kareem Hunt on Injured Reserve with a calf injury. Hunt is set to miss at least the next three games, and Stefanski didn't have a timetable for when Chubb could return.
"I'm going to rule Nick out," Stefanski said. "We will deal with next week, next week."
The absence of both Chubb and Hunt leaves D'Ernest Johnson, Demetric Felton and John Kelly, a two-year veteran who was signed Tuesday from the practice squad, as the running backs left on the roster.
Johnson, a three-year veteran, has the most experience and is ready to take the start. He's totaled 198 yards on 40 career carries — an average of 5 yards per carry — and has the trust from the coaching staff to continue to keep the Browns' run game strong. Cleveland currently leads the league in several rushing categories, including total yards (1,011) and touchdowns (12).
"You guys saw D'Ernest in there last season at times, and he was very dependable and he was very accountable," Stefanski said. "Broke some long runs for us. Can really catch the ball. I have a ton of faith in D'Ernest, just like all of these guys who may be called upon."
Felton, a sixth-round rookie, could also be asked to take his first carries of his career. His shiftiness and versatility has been mainly used as a receiver and returner so far, where he's totaled 90 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown on eight touches.
Kelly last appeared in a regular season game with the Los Angeles Rams in 2019. He has 30 career carries for 83 yards.
Stefanski said Johnson, Felton and Kelly could all be used in big roles.
"I honestly have a ton of confidence in all of our backups," he said. "I really do. I think these guys stay ready so they do not have to get ready. I think they do a great job in the meeting rooms and on the practice field.
"I think it's very, very fluid."
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Denver Broncos
Other injury updates
Stefanski didn't rule out WR Jarvis Landry (knee) and starting tackles Jedrick Wills Jr. (ankle) and Jack Conklin (knee) for Thursday.
Landry was designated to return last week but wasn't activated Sunday for the game. Stefanski said Landry will continue to ramp up his work in practice Tuesday.
"He's going to move around today," he said. "We'll see. (He's doing) limited work, so I think we will get a better understanding today."
Wills and Conklin did not practice Tuesday but did light work earlier in the day.
"They did some good work already today," Stefanski said. "I'm not ruling them out."
Defense holds players-only meeting
After giving up 84 points in the last two weeks, Myles Garrett and other leaders of the Browns defense held a players-only meeting Monday to restore confidence that the group can rally together and meet the high potential they set to reach during the season.
Back-to-back losses have revealed flaws in the group, but the group knows it has the talent to pull together and become a better unit sooner rather than later.
"Myles brought us up, and we had a conversation with the defense," DT Malik Jackson said. "He just told us we need to get it together. Giving up 80 points in two week is unacceptable. No matter what position we're put in, we want to be great, make stands and push people back."
Stefanski wasn't surprised Garrett took a stand with his group and praised him for showing leadership at a crucial point for the defense.
"I've seen Myles grow just in my year-and-a-half, two years with him," he said. "I've certainly seen his leadership role grow. He takes that part of his job very seriously. I think it's natural for him. Every once in a while, you have to hear from the big guy."