Cleveland’s COVID-19 rollercoaster continues to confound and surprise all the way up to the team’s wild-card game kickoff at 8:15 pm ET Sunday at Heinz Field.
Over the past 24 hours, the Browns—which will be without head coach Kevin Stefanski who tested positive Tuesday, along with a host of his staff currently at home recovering from the virus—have announced several starters will be eligible to take the field as well as a handful of others who are sidelined.
Browns’ Secondary Depleted, Linebackers are Back
In the plus column for the team making its first playoff appearance since 2002, safety Ronnie Harrison, who tested positive for COVID-19 early in the week, was removed from the reserve/COVID-19 list following a series of negative tests.
Cleveland tight end Harrison Bryant and linebackers Malcolm Smith and Montrel Meander are also cleared to go Sunday night.
However, the Browns will take the field with big holes in their secondary as its two starting cornerbacks, Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson will remain on the COVID-19 list with late-week positives.
Tomlin Sensitive to Rivals’ Situation, Line Stays Static
Guard Joel Bitonio and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge will also sit Sunday out as they recover.
“I’m sensitive to [their situation],” said Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin on his radio show Saturday night of the Browns going into Sunday’s game without their head coach and multiple players. “I feel for him on a personal note. Kevin and I have known each other for a long time. We worked together at the Minnesota Vikings.”
Despite voting not to shelter in place together after the COVID-19 outbreak caused the team to close down the team facility multiple times since early December and infections plus contact tracing protocols have decimated its receiving corps and offensive line in recent weeks, the Browns are still set to go vs. their division rival with special teams coach Mike Priefer leading the team.
The line jumped up to Pittsburgh -6 when the Stefanski news broke, and there it has remained even as Cleveland continues to add and drop pieces in the hours leading up to kickoff.