BEREA, Ohio — Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski says his team is “full speed ahead” after the latest round of COVID-19 testing produced no new positive results.
Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge also will be unavailable after testing positive, but Stefanski said Wednesday that no other player would immediately be going on the reserve/COVID-19 list after contact tracing yielded no high-risk close contacts.
Although the team’s training facility would remain closed through Wednesday, Stefanski said the Browns would continue to prepare for the Steelers virtually, including holding what he termed a “virtual walk-through” in the afternoon.
“I’m disappointed for anybody that can’t be a part of this, all of our guys that can’t be a part of this is disappointing to me, but we have to find a way,” said Stefanski, who noted that he was feeling fine despite contracting the coronavirus. “That’s what our charge is. That’s what we’re working on.”
Stefanski won’t be the only coach the Browns will be without in Pittsburgh. Tight ends assistant Drew Petzing and defensive backs coach Jeff Howard tested positive for the virus as well, a source told ESPN. The Browns already were without offensive line coach Bill Callahan and passing game coordinator Chad O’Shea, who both missed this past Sunday’s playoff-clinching victory against the Steelers because of COVID-19 protocols.
According to NFL rules, anyone testing positive for COVID-19 must sit out at least 10 days, including coaches.
Special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer has been named acting head coach for Sunday. As the Browns continue to shuffle their staff, Stefanski also confirmed that offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt would call plays.
“[Van Pelt] has been a huge part of our offensive success, a huge part of playcalling,” Stefanski said. “He knows the things we believe in, how we play. … I have a ton of confidence in AVP’s ability to get the job done.”
NFL rules stipulate that Stefanski will be able to communicate with the team by phone or video chat up until kickoff at 8:15 p.m. ET, as long as it takes place in the locker room. After kickoff, no further contact will be allowed, even at halftime.
Linebacker B.J. Goodson was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, but the Browns still have a league-high number of the players on the list, including starting cornerback Denzel Ward, linebacker Malcolm Smith, rookie tight end Harrison Bryant and safety Andrew Sendejo. Their status for Sunday remains unclear.
The Browns are making their first playoff appearance since 2002, having snapped the NFL’s longest postseason drought. They also have lost 17 consecutive games in Pittsburgh, the third-longest road losing streak to a single opponent in NFL history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Cleveland has not won a playoff game since 1994.
“The guys understand what I’m about, they understand what our team’s about,” Stefanski said. “Everybody knows what’s at stake, and they’re excited for the opportunity.”