The Browns activated four key players from the COVID-19 reserve list Thursday and they practiced — cornerback Greg Newsome II, center JC Tretter, kicker Chase McLaughlin and defensive tackle Jordan Elliott.
Newsome practiced for the first time since sustaining a concussion Dec. 10 on the last play of practice. He tested positive for COVID on Dec. 22 and cleared both protocols.
Newsome (concussion) and Tretter (knee) were limited.
The Browns (7-8) need to win their final two games, at Pittsburgh on Monday night and vs. Cincinnati on Jan. 9, to have a chance at winning their first AFC North title. The Browns also need the Chiefs to beat the Bengals on Sunday, and the Ravens to lose one of their last two games.
After a COVID outbreak left the Browns short-handed in two-point losses to the Raiders (16-14) and Packers (24-22), the roster is returning to normal. Only backups remain on the COVID list: linebackers Elijah Lee and Tony Fields II, tackle Alex Taylor and quarterback Nick Mullens and safety Tedric Thompson from the practice squad.
“It is always good to work them back in and see where they are,” coach Kevin Stefanski said of the players returning. “I think that is important with all these guys that are coming back. We need to put our eyes on them, put them through workouts, put them through rehab, see where they are and then plan their role accordingly.”
Running back Kareem Hunt (ankle), safety John Johnson III (hamstring), nickelback Troy Hill (knee) and defensive tackle Malik Jackson (knee) didn’t practice, but Stefanski didn’t rule out anyone for the game vs. the Steelers.
Hunt has missed the last two games after missing five earlier in the year with a calf injury.
“I want to see how he looks throughout the week,” Stefanski said. “If we can get him back, I think that would be a big boost to our team. He is a great, great competitor so we are hoping that he can make it back.”
Rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah didn’t practice with what the team said was a non-COVID illness.
Defensive end Myles Garrett (groin) returned to practice in a limited capacity.
He was injured Dec. 20 against the Raiders, didn’t practice last week but played 52 of 59 snaps Saturday vs. the Packers. He had a quarterback hit and a tackle assist and said the groin felt like “sh–.”
“He certainly was not the 100 percent version of Myles we have seen this season,” Stefanski said.
His teammates were inspired by Garrett playing through the pain.
“For our leader to be fighting through an injury and still giving it his all, it’s like ‘why can’t we all do that?’” defensive back M.J. Stewart Jr. said. “If Myles can do it, then we all can do it.”
IN AND OUT
Kicker Chris Naggar was released from the practice squad after making his NFL debut in the loss to the Packers while McLaughlin was on the COVID list. Naggar missed his first extra point, then made a 37-yard field goal and an extra point.
The Browns signed Chris Blewitt to the practice squad Wednesday. He made his NFL debut this year, going 2-for-5 on field goals and making both extra points with Washington.
TAKING A LEAP
Rookie receiver Anthony Schwartz had never scored a touchdown in the NFL but had a plan if he got into the end zone vs. the Packers.
“It felt great,” the third-round pick said. “Going into the game I was thinking, ‘OK, if I score, I have to do the Lambeau Leap in Lambeau.’ Luckily I saw a crowd of Browns fans right in front of me so I just had to go for it.”
Schwartz’s 5-yard touchdown was his only catch and he added 24 yards on a pair of end-arounds. He hadn’t touched the ball on offense since Nov. 7. He sustained a concussion Nov. 14 returning a kickoff against the Patriots and wasn’t cleared from the concussion protocol until Dec. 18.
In 12 games he has nine catches for 122 yards and five rushes for 36 yards.
“Really just has been the whole motto for me this year is control what you can control,” he said.
Stefanski never met John Madden but had deep admiration for the Hall of Famer who died this week.
“I would think any football fan my age growing up you were playing ‘Madden,’” he said. “I think my first Madden game, I believe, was ’93. It was just such a big part of our childhood growing up and playing with your friends. He was ubiquitous in all of that.
“As a commentator, he was a lot of times doing those NFC games for Fox, so growing up an Eagles fan, anytime you heard Madden and (Pat) Summerall, you knew it was a big game. He was definitely on in the background of my life. I do not know if anybody has had a bigger impact on our game.”
Stefanski didn’t comment on Johnson’s “RUN THE DAMN BALL” tweet from during the game Saturday.
“That is something I will obviously keep internal,” Stefanski said. “I am not on social media, and I would tell you the vast majority of it is just background noise.”
** Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (pectoral, right shoulder), punter Pressley Harvin III (personal), center Kendrick Green (calf) and linebacker Buddy Johnson (foot) didn’t practice.
** The Browns released defensive tackle Josiah Bronson.