CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – The Browns activated their top two cornerbacks from the Reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday morning.
Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson return after missing the previous two games against the Steelers, both victories by the Browns.
The two practiced Wednesday as the Browns began their on-field preparations for the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs Wednesday afternoon.
“I was excited just being back on the football field,” Ward said. “Another opportunity to be able to play out there with my teammates and my coaches and just being able to run around again. It was fun.”
The return of Ward and Johnson is a shot in the arm for a secondary that had been ravaged in recent weeks by COVID and injury.
“We’re looking forward to getting a full complement of guys,” head coach Kevin Stefanski said. “Anytime you get good players back, whether it be injury or the COVID list, it’s always a big boost for your entire team.”
On Tuesday the Browns placed cornerback Robert Jackson, who played 77 of 90 defensive snaps prior to suffering a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 48-37 win over the Steelers, on injured reserve.
Like defensive end Myles Garrett, Ward spoke candidly of the difficulties he experienced with the virus.
“It was a little rough. I lost my sense of smell and my sense of taste so that was really different. All of the food just tasted the same. I was really just picking food for the texture of it because I could not really taste it. It was not great. I am glad I got over it and hoping everybody still continues to stay safe and wears a mask and tries to beat it.”
Ward is confident the aftereffects of the virus won’t hold him back on the field.
“I think I will be alright,” Ward, who did not know how he contracted the virus, said. “I have been doing extra conditioning and working out, just trying to take the necessary steps to get my wind back and conditioning back. I think I will be ready. I will be alright.”
Offensive line coach Bill Callahan also returned to the team Wednesday according to Stefanski, who is “probable” to return Thursday.
Wednesday marked the third straight day that the team did not report any positive COVID-19 tests after being ravaged by them for the previous three weeks that saw as many as 18 players land on the virus list over that span.
The team has just two players from the active roster remaining on the list – left guard Joel Bitonio and receiver KhaDarel Hodge. Both players tested positive on Jan 5 along with Stefanski.
The team’s medical staff will keep close watch on those returning from the virus and are still dealing with its aftereffects.
“We need to monitor all those guys that are coming off that list,” Stefanski said. “So we’ll be mindful of how they look, we’ll talk to them, get some feedback from them and then work that really day by day and understand where each one of those guys are.”
The return of Ward and Johnson comes just in the nick of time with 2018 NFL MVP and Super Bowl LIV MVP Patrick Mahomes and a potent Kansas City offense awaiting them in the Divisional round of the AFC playoffs.
Ward, who missed two games with a calf strain before missing two more due to the virus, was playing at a Pro Bowl level having broken up 18 passes, tied for the second-most in the league behind Miami’s Xavien Howard and Carlton Davis of Tampa Bay, who have 20 each.
“Denzel’s very, very competitive,” Stefanski said. “I’ve been very impressed to watch him work, going all the way back to training camp when I finally got to meet him in person and just watch how he works. And little injury, little nicks and bruises, he pushed through all of those and kept practicing and kept competing at a high level. I think you’ve seen in the games where he’s made impactful plays when he’s out there. So that’s something that is very impressive to me.”
Mahomes completed 66.3% of his passes this season for 4,740 yards, which ranked second in the NFL, 38 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 108.2 passer rating in leading the Chiefs to a 14-2 record and the No. 1 seed in the AFC. He was sacked 22 times in 15 games.
Kansas City’s offense were tops in the NFL in total offense by averaging 415.8 yards per game and passing offense with an average of 303.4 yards per game.