The Browns' offensive line is one step closer to returning to full strength for the first time since Week 14.
Coach Kevin Stefanski said Wednesday right guard Wyatt Teller, who had been out since suffering an ankle injury Dec. 14 against the Ravens, will return to practice. Teller had become one of the best right guards in the league before his injury and has been an integral player in the Browns' offensive success in 2020.
"Wyatt is a good player," Stefanski said Monday. "I understand that and everybody knows that. Again, we trust the guys who are in there. We have high expectations for our offense for our run game and pass game really regardless who is in there."
Teller has spent most of the season as one of the highest graded linemen, according to Pro Football Focus, and has helped solidify the Browns' offensive line as one of the best units in the league. He's shown tremendous improvement in his third NFL season and has drawn praise from coaches and players all year for opening holes in the run game, which has been ranked within the top 5 in the NFL for most of season, and the pass game, which has benefitted from a surge from quarterback Baker Mayfield in the second half of the season.
The biggest indication of Teller's importance, however, shows in the stats in games he's missed. The Browns have averaged just 81.8 rushing yards in five games without Teller, and all three of the sub-100 games have come when Teller wasn't active.
Now, he'll be back in practice with a shot to play in the Browns' most important game of the season.
Practice Moved Back
Browns players and coaches have adapted to last-minute schedule changes and contingency plans due to COVID-19 all season long, and they needed to do it again Wednesday.
The team announced that a coach and a player from the practice squad had tested positive, which meant the facility needed to be shut down for contact tracing. Practice was moved back to 4:30 p.m. and will be held indoors.
"You do not want to have these at any point," Stefanski said. "I want our guys to be healthy and safe, but we will deal with this as it comes our way. That is what today looks like, and we will be ready to get our work in however it is. I told the guys this morning, we are going to work. Whether it is on the field or virtual, we will work. Same thing tomorrow. We will just take it as each day comes."
Check out the best photos from the Browns game against the Jets yesterday by the Browns photo team
Browns Prep for Rudolph
The Browns won't be facing Ben Roethlisberger as the Steelers' starting quarterback Sunday, but Stefanski doesn't believe that will make the Browns' job of stopping Pittsburgh any easier.
The Steelers will opt to give Roethlisberger, who's accumulated 3,804 passing yards with 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his 17th NFL season, a rest in the regular season finale. Pittsburgh, however, has several other playmakers that could play Sunday and own one of the league's brightest coaches in Mike Tomlin.
Stefanski doesn't expect the challenge to be any easier.
"Mason Rudolph has played a lot of football in this league, and he has done a nice job," Stefanski said. "We just have to get to know him and then really kind of figure out how they are going to adjust that with their scheme or not adjust at all. And then that is where we have to have a plan and then be ready to adapt based on how the game unfolds."
Rudolph, a three-year veteran, has thrown 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions and has a 62 percent completion percentage in eight starts and 14 career games. The 25-year-old has been a steady backup behind Roethlisberger, who passed for 162 yards and a touchdown against the Browns in Week 6.
That game, a 38-7 Cleveland loss, is perhaps the biggest example for why Stefanski isn't changing his preparation despite a quarterback change. Tomlin knows how to make the most of all of his players — that's how he's been the Steelers' head coach for the last 13 seasons — and Stefanski still expects a big challenge no matter who's at quarterback.
"I see the challenge as facing the Pittsburgh Steelers," Stefanski said. "We need to get to know this entire team. That is part of our preparation."
The return of Teller wasn't the only good news Wednesday for the offensive line. Stefanski expects rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. to return this week as well after he missed Sunday's game due to an illness.
"I think we will get him back this week," Stefanski said. "I can't tell you if it is today, tomorrow, the next day. I don't have an update there."
Linebackers Tae Davis and Sione Takitaki and right guard/center Nick Harris were all absent from practice. Stefanski said he expects safety Ronnie Harrison Jr., who returned to practice last week as he recovers from a shoulder injury, to increase his workload this week.
A number of players who missed Sunday's game because they were dubbed close contacts and placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list are on track to return to practice as soon as Thursday.