CLEVELAND (AP) — The Browns didn’t begin preparing for the Steelers on the field, but via Zoom calls.
Hardly ideal before their biggest game in decades.
Cleveland had two more positive COVID-19 tests — including one for an assistant coach — on Wednesday, throwing their schedule into disorder as the team gets ready to play Pittsburgh on Sunday with a spot in the playoffs riding on the outcome.
The Browns, who have nine players currently on the COVID-19 reserve list, will make the postseason for the first time since 2002 with a win.
The team has not yet identified the positive player and coach Kevin Stefanski would not reveal which of his staff members may have to miss the season finale.
After learning of the positive tests, the team closed its facility to do contact tracing and Stefanski said players were doing virtual meetings — something that has become standard in 2020.
The NFL is monitoring the Browns’ situation to determine whether the game needs to be moved.
“We will follow the medical guidance,” said Dawn Aponte, the league’s chief football administrative officer. “At this moment we are planning to play on schedule and will take it from there. As always we try to remain flexible and adaptable, and everything remains on the table. As we continue to get the info, we will address it and assess it accordingly.”
Stefanski was awaiting word from the league as to when he can hold practice. It’s possible the Browns will do their on-field workouts in shifts — offense and defense alternating time on the field — as they’ve had to do that previously this season.
Cleveland’s COVID list has been growing daily. The team is still without its top four wide receivers, starting safeties and two linebackers. Starting linebacker B.J. Goodson, whose positive test was followed last week by numerous players being ruled out of the game against the New York Jets because of close contact with him, will sit out the regular-season finale.
Three players — safeties Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph and tight end Harrison Bryant — were added to the reserve list Tuesday. Sendejo is also expected to be out Sunday.
Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s Chief Medical Officer, said the league is investigating the rise in cases with the Browns.
“To date we don’t see any evidence of transmission within the facility,” he said. “”I don’t think it would come as a surprise for a positive test in that market. The county that the Browns play in is one of the highest for incident rates in the country.”
For Stefanski, chaos has become the norm as the Browns (10-5) have been among the teams hit hardest by the virus.
“That is 2020,” he said. “We are all prepared to adapt as necessary, really just take this thing day by day and figure out a way to make sure that we are getting our work in.”
Stefanski did not have an update on rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills, who was held out Sunday with COVID-like symptoms. He was briefly on the reserve list last week before being activated and then getting sick. Stefanski expects Wills back, but doesn’t know when.
Stefanski said wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge and linebacker Jacob Phillips remained on schedule to return to practice Thursday as long as they test negative once again.
Joseph and Bryant can return for Sunday’s game if they continue to test negative.
The Browns did have a good development as starting right guard Wyatt Teller was cleared to practice after missing two games with a sprained ankle. Cleveland’s running game hasn’t been the same without Teller.