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Cleveland Browns reopen facility, start practices ahead of AFC wild-card game

January 9th, 2021

BEREA, Ohio — Two days before their first playoff appearance in 18 years, the Cleveland Browns finally practiced for the playoffs.

The NFL cleared the team to practice Friday afternoon for the first time this week. Cleveland’s training facility had been closed since Tuesday, after head coach Kevin Stefanski and four others within the team tested positive for COVID-19.

Practices on Wednesday and Thursday were canceled, as the team instead prepared remotely for Sunday night’s AFC wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“We’re going to have to bank on the timing and the things that we’ve worked on to this point with having limited reps,” wide receiver Jarvis Landry said after Thursday’s practice was canceled. “We can’t use this as an excuse. We can’t use this as something that is going to hinder us. We just have to find a way.”

The Browns, significantly short-handed, will have to find a way Sunday. Stefanski, Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio, safety Ronnie Harrison and potentially several other key players will not travel to Pittsburgh due to COVID-19 protocols.

All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin missed Friday’s practice with an illness and is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Defensive end Myles Garrett (shoulder) and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (neck) are also listed as questionable, but Stefanski said that he’s confident they’ll play against the Steelers.

“It was good,” Garrett said of Friday’s practice. “We needed at least a day under our belts to get everything refined.”

Special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer will serve as acting head coach Sunday, while offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will call plays for Stefanski.

All Browns players tested Thursday and Friday are negative, with only assistant offensive line coach Scott Peters, who had missed last Sunday’s game as a high-risk close contact, testing positive for COVID-19, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Earlier this week, tight ends assistant Drew Petzing and defensive backs coach Jeff Howard tested positive for the virus. And this past Sunday against the Steelers, the Browns were without offensive line coach Bill Callahan and receivers coach Chad O’Shea, who tested positive last week.

O’Shea is returning to the team Friday, but Callahan and the other assistants who have tested positive will not be coaching Sunday.

Ryan Cordell will handle offensive line coaching duties in Callahan’s absence, while Callie Brownson will coach tight ends and Brandon Lynch will coach the defensive backs.

Instead of driving to Pittsburgh as they normally do, the Browns will fly after Saturday’s walkthrough to reduce the chances of more COVID-19 issues.

“This is a team that fights,” Van Pelt said Thursday. “This is a team that is resilient. … I feel really good about taking whoever is left down there to Pittsburgh. I know you will get [our] best.”

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