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News & Notes: Browns short-handed at CB but have options vs. Raiders WR Hunter Renfrow

Renfrow ranks fifth in the NFL in receptions and has caught 30 passes in his last 3 games

One of the Raiders' biggest offensive weapons plays in the slot, an area where the Browns may be forced to tap into their depth Saturday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Cleveland's normal slot cornerback, Troy Hill, was already considered unlikely to play because of a knee injury before he was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday. Rookie Greg Newsome II, who was the team's slot cornerback earlier this season when Hill was sidelined, remains in the league's concussion protocols after missing last week's game against the Ravens.

Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods said there are a number of options, including a couple of safeties, who can help out the team as it looks to limit the production of Renfrow, who is fifth in the NFL with 86 receptions and has caught 30 of them in the past three games.

"With some of these guys, they understand the techniques enough so if we just want to move some guys in there and just run specific calls, we can do that, as well," Woods said. "That is really kind of how I am looking at it. It might be multiple guys just really maybe based on what we are running defensively."

Woods declined to disclose his specific plan of action but said safeties Ronnie Harrison Jr. and M.J. Stewart have enough experience and versatility to handle the role if necessary.

Harrison missed last week's game with an ankle injury, but both Woods and coach Kevin Stefanski have expressed confidence in his status for Saturday. It became even more of a storyline Wednesday in the wake of every-down safety John Johnson III landing on reserve/COVID-19.

The Browns have gotten strong play out of their safeties in recent weeks, including a Week 12 effort in which all three of the team's main players at the position — Johnson, Harrison and Grant Delpit — picked up interceptions.

"We always talk about those guys being erasers. They have to erase the deep passes. They have to erase any runs that break," Woods said. "We missed a few times throughout the season, but as you said, the last three or four weeks, I think you have seen the guys' ability to make plays in space and in the run game. I think we have seen guys' ability to match up in coverage and also the range. We have had quite a number of interceptions with those guys. That is really why we brought them here. I think it is starting to show."

Renfrow has shown to be Raiders QB Derek Carr's go-to option ever since Pro Bowl TE Darren Waller was lost to a knee injury. Renfrow was the lone bright spot in Las Vegas' lopsided loss last week at Kansas City, as he recorded his third straight 100-yard game and caught his fifth touchdown of the season.

It's unclear if Waller, who was listed Tuesday as a non-participant for Las Vegas' walkthrough, will be available Saturday. Either way, the Browns know Renfrow is a player that requires a plan.

"How he runs routes and how they use him, you have to put something together defensively to try to handle multiple things," Woods said. "Even if we had all of the guys up, we would still do some things to try to take him away."

Injury Updates

Even if the Browns are unable to practice this week, Stefanski said he'd have the appropriate information to determine whether Harrison or TE Harrison Bryant (ankle) would be ready for Saturday's game.

Bryant, who missed last week's game after suffering his injury Week 12, and Harrison were listed as limited participants for Wednesday's walkthrough.

"I saw Ronnie work out before the game. I have seen Harrison run. I feel good about where they are progressing," Stefanski said. "If we did not hypothetically have that [practice], but you can take them to the game and see them move around before the game. I think those are two very diligent players who I do think could play if that is how it shakes out."

The Challenge

Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who is poised to fill in for Stefanski if he's unable to clear COVID protocols by Saturday, was asked if there was anything he'd have done differently when he filled in for Stefanski during last year's AFC Wild Card win over the Steelers.

One moment stood above the rest, and Priefer was able to joke about it Wednesday.

Priefer unsuccessfully challenged a 15-yard catch by Steelers WR Diontae Johnson in the fourth quarter of the Browns' 48-37 win. Ultimately, it didn't cost the Browns anything more than a timeout, but Priefer was still thinking about it Wednesday.

"That," he said, "was the dumbest challenge in the history of the league so I will not do that, I promise."

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