Browns 'embrace the uncertainty ... challenge' of dealing with COVID-19 outbreak and preparing for Raiders

·6 min read
Browns defensive end Takk McKinley missed three weeks of training camp because of undisclosed personal reasons.
Browns defensive end Takk McKinley missed three weeks of training camp because of undisclosed personal reasons.

Coach Kevin Stefanski watched Saturday's Browns practice on Zoom without clear vision.

The Internet connection wasn't the problem. It was the chaos and confusion created by the team's COVID-19 outbreak.

Stefanski still doesn't know which players will be available or unavailable at 5 p.m. Monday when the Browns (7-6) face the Las Vegas Raiders (6-7) at FirstEnergy Stadium in a game Cleveland needs to win to remain viable in the AFC playoff race.

“Our players embrace the uncertainty,” Stefanski said via Zoom. “They embrace the challenge of this all. If guys make it back, that's great. If they don't, we'll be just fine.”

When Stefanski addressed reporters, the Browns still had 24 players and three coaches sidelined with COVID-19. After testing positive Wednesday, Stefanski is among the group but said he's feeling “good to go.”

Takk McKinley returns from COVID-19 list, James Hudson III tests positive

The Browns activated No. 3 defensive end Takk McKinley from the reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday, but rookie right tackle James Hudson III was placed on the list after testing positive.

McKinley had tested positive Tuesday and appears to be the first Browns player to benefit from new protocols adopted Thursday by the NFL and NFL Players Association. Those rules increase the likelihood some vaccinated, asymptomatic Browns players will be able to test off the COVID-19 list in time to face the Raiders.

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Cleveland Browns offensive tackle James Hudson (66) looks to block Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Dakota Allen, right, during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Cleveland Browns offensive tackle James Hudson (66) looks to block Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Dakota Allen, right, during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

The Browns and Raiders have been informed by the league they have until 2 p.m. Monday to make transactions for Monday evening's game, a person familiar with the situation said, confirming an NFL Network report. Under normal circumstances, players would need to be activated by 4 p.m. Sunday for them to be eligible to play in a game with a 5 p.m. Monday kickoff.

Stefanski said he wouldn't hesitate to play starters Monday evening if they were cleared earlier in the day, provided everything checked out medically.

“We have that mentality where it's next man up, and we'd love to see guys come back,” Stefanski said, “but it's definitely not something that we're counting on.”

Because of the Browns' COVID-19 outbreak, the NFL and NFLPA reached an agreement Friday to postpone their game against the Raiders from 4:30 p.m. Saturday until 5 p.m. Monday.

NFL, NFLPA agree to new COVID-19 protocols that reduce testing for vaccinated, asymptomatic players

New rules agreed upon Saturday by the NFL and NFLPA are intended to keep vaccinated, asymptomatic players off the COVID-19 list list moving forward.

A summary of the updated protocols were outlined as follows in a memo from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to teams, a copy of which the Beacon Journal obtained.

• Unvaccinated players will continue to be tested daily

• Strategic and targeted testing will be employed for vaccinated individuals who are asymptomatic

• Any player or staff member with symptoms will be tested promptly upon being identified

• Players and families will have access to supplemental voluntary testing on a daily basis

• At home tests will be distributed to players to allow them to identify and self-report a possible infection before entering the facility

"COVID is a real thing, and it’s not going anywhere any time soon,” said Browns linebacker Anthony Walker Jr., who was activated from the COVID-19 list Friday. “So we can put in protocols and we can put in things, but it’s still there, and we’re just finding the best way to fight this and still be able to put on a show and be able to go out there and play games on Sunday, So I think everyone is just trying to find the best way to do that, and it’s ever-changing right now because we don’t have the answers.”

FILE - Cleveland Browns linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. looks on from the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Nov. 28, 2021, in Baltimore. The Browns placed Walker Jr. and punter Jamie Gillan on the reserve-COVID-19 list on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021 in advance of Sunday's key matchup against the Baltimore Ravens. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams, file)
FILE - Cleveland Browns linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. looks on from the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Nov. 28, 2021, in Baltimore. The Browns placed Walker Jr. and punter Jamie Gillan on the reserve-COVID-19 list on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021 in advance of Sunday's key matchup against the Baltimore Ravens. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams, file)

The bottom line is the NFL has been scrambling in recent days for answers about how to deal with the omicron variant.

“Medical information strongly indicates that this variant is significantly more contagious but possibly less severe than prior variants, particularly for people who are fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot,” Goodell wrote in his memo to teams. “Our experience with the Omicron variant is fully consistent with this expectation — while more players and staff are testing positive, roughly two-thirds of those individuals are asymptomatic, most of the remaining individuals have only mild symptoms, and the virus appears to clear positive individuals more rapidly than was true with the Delta or earlier variants.”

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The latest protocols don't change what needs to happen for Browns players on the COVID-19 list to test out and be activated. They need a combination of negative tests or results that produce certain cycle threshold values.

Browns spokesperson Peter John-Baptiste said in a statement Friday "every member of our organization who has recently tested positive was vaccinated, the majority of which are currently asymptomatic or experiencing mild symptoms."

NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills told reporters Saturday during a conference call data suggest the postponed Browns-Raiders game can be held Monday without further delay.

Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski watches before an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski watches before an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Coach Kevin Stefanski says Cleveland Browns coach took precautions in attempt to practice safely

Stefanski expects his team to be fully prepared, no matter who suits up. He said practice looked good from his virtual vantage point.

“Our coaches have the attitude that whatever we have available to us, however we have to adjust, that’s what we’re going to do,” Stefanski said. “It’s very much a can-do attitude, and that’s what we’ve talked about as a team.

“I really, really believe these coaches, these players understand what’s at stake and understand that we have to get it done.”

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Given the situation, the Browns' decision to practice early Saturday afternoon was met with questions from some fans on social media. The session was held in the team's field house due to rain and closed to media.

Stefanski said the garage doors on the field house were open.

“We are trying to get the team ready for the game on Monday and getting work in while being safe,” he said. “So we took extra precautions with the guys in terms of how we came into the building, how we got dressed, how we left, all those things. We limited the amount of time we’re around each other. Those are things we’ve done really all week. So try to be very, very smart about this, but also try to get our work in.”

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The Browns held in-person walk throughs Tuesday and Wednesday before practicing Thursday. They held a virtual walk through Friday.

All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett joined Thursday's practice late and worked off to the side. He did not participate in Saturday's practice, according to the team's injury report.

“We did something similar with Myles [Saturday],” Stefanski said. “Really just trying to make smart decisions with all of our guys. Even made some adjustments to how we come together and how we get in the building. We brought the guys in in shifts. We’re trying to be smart about all of it.”

Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett looks across the field during the first half of the Nov. 28 game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett looks across the field during the first half of the Nov. 28 game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.

Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.com.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns' Takk McKinley back from COVID-19; James Hudson tests positive

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