Baker Mayfield’s injured ribs aren’t the only concern this week for the Browns.
Star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was sent home feeling ill on Thursday as coach Kevin Stefanski said the team acted out of caution because of COVID-19 concerns while preparing for this week’s matchup against the unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers.
Stefanski said Beckham did not test positive for the coronavirus. He took another test before leaving the team’s facility and the Browns will find out those results Friday.
“You have to be careful,” Stefanski said. “I don’t want to assume anything, but with all of our guys we will make sure we just follow the protocols and just be safe. We have been on high alert, that is just 2020.”
Beckham has been a major factor in Cleveland being 4-1 for the first time since 1994. He has 21 catches for 294 yards in three games, and the polarizing three-time Pro Bowler has stated numerous times that he’s as healthy and confident as he’s been in years.
The Browns (4-1) are already missing star running back Nick Chubb because of a sprained right knee, and Stefanski wasn’t ready to consider his offense without Beckham.
“I don’t know if I want to go there yet,” Stefanski said. “He’s a big part of what we do.”
In addition to the injuries to Mayfield, Chubb and Beckham’s illness, wide receiver Jarvis Landry has been limited this week with hip and rib problems. Landry crawled off the field after taking a wicked hit to the side early in last week’s win.
The Browns have survived a rash of injuries with several backups stepping up and making key contributions during the team’s four-game winning streak. Along with Mayfield and Beckham, safeties Ronnie Harrison (concussion) and Karl Joseph (hamstring) are both uncertain for Sunday.
Chubb is expected to miss a few more games and starting right guard Wyatt Teller is “week to week” with a strained calf. Starting cornerback Greedy Williams went on injured reserve this week and the Browns lost projected rookie starting safety Grant Delpit to a season-ending injury in camp.
“It’s kind of the theme of the year for us,” said offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt.
As for Mayfield, Stefanski said his quarterback has improved and was able to throw some passes on Wednesday. Van Pelt said Mayfield’s throws came under the supervision of the team’s trainers after the team’s workout.
Mayfield took a hard hit in the fourth quarter while throwing an interception in last week’s win over Indianapolis but finished the game.
Mayfield said “everything” on his right side was sore Wednesday when asked if the injury was specific to his ribs.
Mayfield didn’t throw a single pass and watched backup Case Keenum work with Cleveland’s receivers during the 10-minute window of practice opened to the media. The team had to move its workout inside because of rain on Thursday, so there was no visual evidence Mayfield did anything more.
Stefanski said there will be several factors in deciding if Mayfield can face the Steelers (4-0).
“With any injury there is always flexibility and movement and then there is a pain element to all of this,” he said. But he is progressing.”
On Wednesday, Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward made it clear that he’s got Mayfield in his sights.
“I’m not a doctor,” Heyward said. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I know how bruised up he is. But at the end of the day I’m just trying to inflict good punishment.”
If Keenum has to play, Stefanski has confidence in the 32-year-old, who has made 62 NFL starts.
“All of our guys, you look back to that last game, guys step up and have to perform,” he said. “Case has been a backup in this league for a very long time and he has been a starter. He understands how to prepare if need be.”