CLEVELAND (AP) — Down at least five players and three assistant coaches, the Cleveland Browns will try become a playoff team again.
Unable to practice most of the week due to COVID-19 cases and protocols, the Browns said Saturday that offensive line coach Bill Callahan and assistant line coach Scott Peters will both miss Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers as Cleveland tries to lock up its first postseason berth since 2002.
On Friday, the team said wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea will also miss the dramatic regular-season finale after he tested positive. He’ll be replaced by chief of staff Callie Brownson, who earlier this season became the first female to handle in-game sideline coaching duties in an NFL game.
Assistant Ryan Cordell will take over for Callahan, the former Raiders and Nebraska coach in his first season with Cleveland. Callahan has been widely praised for his work with the Browns’ front, which has helped the club become one of the league’s best rushing teams.
The Browns will return to the playoffs for just their second time in their expansion era with a win over their hated rivals, who will sit quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, defensive stars T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward and other starters.
That should help Cleveland’s cause, but the Browns, who had just two abbreviated on-field indoor practices this week, are far from full strength.
Top cornerback Denzel Ward tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday and is out along with linebackers B.J. Goodson, Malcolm Smith, safety Andrew Sendejo and tight end Harrison Bryant. Goodson’s positive test last week led to other players being sidelined as close contacts.
The Browns’ thin secondary got a needed reinforcement as safety Karl Joseph was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Unlike last week, the Browns will have their four leading receivers back. Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge were activated on Thursday. They were all ruled out against the New York Jets as high-risk after spending time around Goodson in the team’s recovery whirlpools.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski’s plan to have a walk-through on Saturday was scrapped when the team closed its building — for the third time in four days — to conduct contact tracing.
Stefanski was forced to improvise last week in New Jersey, holding a game day walk-through in a fifth-floor parking garage at the team’s hotel.
“It was like a wind tunnel out there,” Pro guard Joel Bitonio said with a laugh Friday. “It was the first time we were in the huddle with most of the receivers that game at that time. It was one of those things where we just want to get used to the calls and make sure everybody is on the same page.
“It was definitely different. That will be one that we talk about a few years from now.”
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