Browns Head Coach, ‘Significant’ Player to Miss Wildcard Vs. Steelers

Kevin Stefanski Browns

Sarah Stier/Getty Images Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski in December 2020.

On Tuesday morning the Cleveland Browns announced that head coach Kevin Stefanski and two members of his coaching staff have tested positive for COVID-19. Two players, one of whom was described as a ‘significant player,’ also tested positive.

As a result, Stefanski, the two assistant coaches, and the two players will miss Sunday’s wildcard playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

According to the Browns, the team’s practice facility is now closed and contract tracing is taking place, so more players and coaches could be affected by the outbreak.

A tweet from ESPN Senior NFL Insider Adam Schefter seems to indicate that more coaches have already been identified.

Jake Trotter, who covers the Browns for ESPN, relates that the following Cleveland coaches are now out of commission.

As for the source of the infection, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reports that the COVID cases “were all from community spread,” and that three different strains of the virus have been identified.

Cleveland’s ‘Acting Head Coach’

In the wake of the news, the Browns have named special teams coordinator Mike Priefer as “acting head coach.” Priefer is in his second year with the Browns, but has 19 years of coaching experience in the NFL. He’s now in his 15th season as an NFL special teams coordinator after holding the same role with the Kansas City Chiefs (2006-08), Denver Broncos (2009-10) and Minnesota Vikings (2011-18).

Cleveland’s Reserve/COVID-19 List

Prior to the above news, Cleveland had six roster players on its Reserve/COVID-19 list, along with two practice squad players.

TE Harrison Bryant
LB B.J. Goodson
CB Kevin Johnson
S Andrew Sendejo
LB Malcolm Smith
CB Denzel Ward

Practice Squad
S Elijah Benton
C Javon Patterson

Many of the above-named players are expected to come off the team’s Reserve/COVID-19 list(s) prior to the Steelers game.

But on Tuesday afternoon the Browns added the two above-referenced players to the Reserve/COVID-19 list, namely, OG Joel Bitonio and WR KhaDarel Hodge.

Bitonio is a big loss for the Browns, as he’s a key component of what is arguably the best offensive line in the NFL.

In fact, Pro Football Focus regards Cleveland guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller as the two best guards in the AFC. PFF also has Browns offensive tackle Jack Conklin and J.C. Tretter as part of its Pro Bowl team.

On Tuesday, the Browns also placed two players on injured reserve: Center Nick Harris (knee) and defensive end Olivier Vernon, the latter of whom suffered his season-ending Achilles injury last Sunday against the Steelers.

Steelers Reserve/COVID-19 List

Pittsburgh currently has just three players on its Reserve/COVID-19 list, all of whom were added this past Saturday. Those three players are cornerback Joe Haden, tight end Eric Ebron and DE/OLB Cassius Marsh.

Haden has reportedly tested positive for the virus and will miss Sunday’s game, while Ebron and Marsh were placed on the list as “close contacts” of Haden and can potentially return in time to play against the Browns.

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