CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – The offense and defense were back together on the practice field Friday as the team returned to some semblance of normalcy in what has been a difficult week, and year.
For the first time this season, the Browns weren’t able to conduct a full practice until Friday leading up to a game.
The Browns had a player test positive for COVID-19 three days in a row this week – defensive end joe Jackson Tuesday, linebacker Sione Takitaki Wednesday and defensive end Porter Gustin Thursday –disrupting their schedule.
“A unique week,” head coach Kevin Stefanski said. “I am proud of them and how they have handled this and how they have made sure to get their work in no matter what.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has made Stefanski a veteran at being flexible, which helped make dealing with this week somewhat palatable for the first-year head coach.
“We are virtual in the morning already so I guess the only difference would be the coaches were working from their homes in the morning; the players are already working from their homes,” Stefanski said. “That is the new normal for us of being ready to adapt. I think we got everything accomplished that we needed to get accomplished this week.”
The positive tests forced temporary closures of the team’s training facility and will test the depth chart, especially defensively.
Wednesday Stefanski split the team in half and conducted separate practices for the offense and defense but on Thursday, the defense couldn’t even be on the field for practice while contact tracing was conducted.
“I give Joe Woods and the defensive staff a ton of credit,” Stefanski said. “I told them that [Thursday] was going to be virtual for them, and they were prepared, and I think this offseason prepared them. They had a bunch of different things that they wanted to accomplish together online, and I think they were able to do that.”
At least the offense didn’t miss too much time on the field, even if some of their work came on air, without a defense to work off of
“It is that year, and I think everybody understands that,” offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said.
“We have made the most of it really the last two days, the Wednesday and Thursday in practice. Even though there was not a defense there for us to go against, we put our guys out there and serviced ourselves so to speak with the scout team looks, but the tempo and the fact that these guys were locked in coming from their couches right to the practice field, I thought we had to have better days of practice as far as crispness.”
With the team split, that meant there wasn’t much work for the special teams for two of their three practice days.
Friday was used as a catch-up day with an extra 10-minute session added on to practice.
“We did some of the specialist work – the kicker, punter and snapper, they worked together,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “We have had some solid meetings and gone over everything we need to normally go over on a Wednesday, Thursday and of course [Friday] morning. We have installed everything.”
On the bright side, the competition awaiting them Sunday is not of the elite variety.
The Jaguars have lost their last nine following a Week 1 victory but Stefanski and his staff has the players focused and not looking ahead.
“We are always on high alert, but this week has been obviously tough, just the limited time and losing guys throughout the week,” receiver Jarvis Landry said. “For us, it is just focusing on the details and making sure that we are double- and triple-checking everything that we want to do to compete with every play and getting the details right with the limited time that we have had practicing and then guys filling in other positions on the defense side, special teams and things like that.”
Stefanski’s shuffling isn’t done this week.
The defense will be without their two best players and three starters overall.
“I am not going to get necessarily into all of the lineup changes,” Stefanski said. “We like to play a lot of people and we like to rotate guys in and out and make sure a bunch of guys are fresh.”