Browns QB Case Keenum Tests Positive, Nick Mullens Likely to Start

Getty Images Case Keenum of the Cleveland Browns.

The number of Cleveland Browns players on the reserve/COVID-19 list is growing, with Case Keenum now landing on the list, leaving Nick Mullens in line to start at quarterback.

Starter Baker Mayfield was knocked out earlier in the week by a positive test but the team expressed the utmost confidence in Keenum starting. However, the story changes quite a bit now with Mullens starting under center, although he does carry some starting experience.

Mullens is in his fourth NFL season out of Southern Mississippi. Originally signed by San Francisco as an undrafted free agent in 2017, Mullens has appeared in 19 career games with 16 starts, completing 387 passes for 4,714 yards with 25 touchdowns. He has spent the 2021 season on the Browns’ practice squad and was active but did not play in the team’s Week 7 game.

Keenum practiced with the team on Thursday and ESPN’s Jake Trotter said more positive tests are on the way. Considering how close he works with Mullens, it wouldn’t be overly surprising if the Browns faced a dire situation at the position.

Browns safety Ronnie Harrison, who was hoping to return from an ankle injury, was announced earlier in the day.

Stefanski said on Thursday that he’s not ruling anyone out just yet, with the situation continuing to evolve.

“With the guys that we put on the list, constant dialogue with them to No. 1 see how they’re doing and then No. 2 making sure that they’re locked in and staying ready and staying in the gameplan,” Stefanski said. “We’ll just continue to follow the protocols, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour.”

The league announced negotiated changes to the league’s COVID-19 protocols, although it’s unclear how it will change things for the Browns this week. Here’s how it could affect the Browns situation, per ESPN:

Under the previous protocols, a vaccinated individual who tests positive for COVID-19 has to produce two negative tests 24 hours apart before being cleared to return. The new protocols relax that requirement and could, according to the source, enable teams such as the Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams and Washington Football Team to get some players back for this weekend’s games.

The league explained the reason for the change in a statement.

“Finally, and based on expert advice, we will adjust the return-to-participation requirements for those who have recovered from COVID-19,” the league said in a statement. “All of these changes are grounded in our data and science-backed approach, with safety our number-one goal for the entire NFL community.”

Browns Confident in Experience From Last Season

The Browns have been in a similar situation before, missing multiple key players and Kevin Stefanski down the stretch of last season due to COVID-19 issues. It was unfortunate but has given the team some experience dealing with the issues that pop up, premier among those being Stefanski — the team’s offensive play-caller — being out.

“I think the guys proved last year that they do not need me,” Stefanski joked, pointing to his team’s 48-37 victory against the Steelers in the Divisional Round. “I’m here, I’m going to support them and I am going to do my job, but if I can’t be out there with them Saturday, they will be ready to go.

“We have guys on this roster who we trust. We have guys on this roster who we have been developing, who are in the meetings and are diligent about preparation. If we are calling on them this week, they will be ready, that is what they do.”

Browns defensive end Myles Garrett didn’t buy the sentiment that the team doesn’t need Stefanski but is still confident in his squad.

“I am not going to say we do not need him,” Garrett said. “We love having Kevin around. He is a great leader for us and a great guy, but we have a lot of men who have played a lot of ball and know how to lead men, as well. We will probably miss his play calling and the things he does on the offensive side, but we will find a way to take care of business.”

Browns Not Hanging Their Heads Due to Adversity

More than half of the Browns starters are currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list as they head into a crucial AFC matchup against the Raiders. While it’d be easy for them to feel sorry for themselves, the Browns are doing anything but that, knowing that there’s no mercy with the playoffs on the line.

“We can’t worry about the past, and we do not know about the future so just stay in the present and control what we can control,” Garrett told reporters. “Whoever is up has to be ready. We can’t anticipate being the guy who comes off the bench this week. Right now it is Thursday, and you might be up right now and have to make a play that they have only seen done themselves. We have to be able to rise to the occasion and prepare for the moment.”

The Browns opened as a 6.5-point favorite against the Raiders. However, that number has now shifted to have the Browns at 1-point underdogs against Las Vegas, per Odds Shark.

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