CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns were struck with more bad COVID-19 news Thursday afternoon after announcing safety Ronnie Harrison was being placed on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list.
Harrison has provided a spark to the Browns secondary, playing in 11 games this season with seven starts, recording 38 tackles, seven passes defended, an interception, and a touchdown.
The Browns had recently activated Harrison from injured reserve after he missed several weeks with a shoulder injury.
💔💔💔— Ronnie Harrison II (@Rharr_15) January 7, 2021
While down one safety, the Browns will be getting one safety back on the roster from the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Andrew Sendejo was cleared from the list Thursday after being placed on it Dec. 29.
The team also placed linebacker Montrel Meander on the practice squad/COVID-19 list Thursday.
Meander was elevated from the practice squad on Saturday, just before the Week 17 match-up against the Steelers, as a COVID-19 replacement.
Harrison and Meander join other players who remain on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list, including veteran guard Joel Bitonio and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge, as well as linebacker Malcolm Smith, tight end Harrison Bryant and cornerback Denzel Ward.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski also tested positive for COVID-19 and will be unavailable to coach in Sunday night's game, putting special teams coordinator Mike Priefer in the role of acting head coach and giving play-calling responsibilities to offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt.
Bryant, Smith and Ward still have a chance to return in time for Sunday’s playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the team is still waiting to see if that is possible.
The Steelers have added players of their own back to their roster, activating tight end Eric Ebron and linebacker Cassius Marsh from their reserve/COVID-19 list.
Cleveland has been unable to practice while dealing with their ongoing COVID-19 situation, which the league is not calling an outbreak, and on Thursday quarterback Baker Mayfield said he hasn’t thrown a football since Sunday’s Week 17 game.
The team has continued its meetings virtually and been preparing from home but has not been able to meet and hold a physical practice all week.
On Tuesday, the league sent out a statement saying the playoff game between the Browns and Steelers was still on as scheduled and said the COVID-19 situation in Cleveland was determined to not be an outbreak because genomic sequencing found there were “unconnected viruses among the player and personnel” who had tested positive for COVID-19.
There's no change to the status of the game. We are continuing to conduct standard contact tracing to identify any possible high-risk close contacts. If any players or personnel are identified as such, they would remain apart from the team and facilities for five days from the last exposure to a positive individual. They would be eligible to return to the team and play in the game.
As you know, there were no positives from tests for the Browns over the previous couple days.
The league and its partner conducted genomic sequencing on the positive cases from last week and there were unconnected viruses among the players and personnel. These new cases will undergo the same treatment.
NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported on Thursday that the league's chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, said that there was spread between one individual and another and not all of the Browns' cases are from community spread.
Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's chief medical officer, says on @nflnetwork "there was some spread one individual to another" among #Browns' latest positive COVID-19 cases. Not all community spread. Contact tracing and review of test results ongoing before decision on practice today.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) January 7, 2021
The Browns will have at least one advantage on their side as they enter Heinz Field for their first playoff appearance in 18 years—the Steelers announced fans will not be able to attend that game due to state restrictions, eliminating some sense of Pittsburgh’s home field advantage.