clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Browns welcome back Kevin Stefanski, KhaDarel Hodge

Team is still missing two key starters on offensive, however, as the Browns move closer to Sunday’s playoff game against Kansas City.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Little by little, the Cleveland Browns are getting healthier as they prepare for Sunday’s playoff game with the Kansas City Chiefs.

But the club is still waiting on two key offensive starters and time is growing short.

On Thursday, the Browns welcomed back head coach Kevin Stefanski and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge, who both missed Sunday’s Wild Card playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers while on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.

Hodge joins cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson, who were activated off the COVID list on Wednesday as the latest Browns player to be back at practice.

But it is the return of Stefanski, who watched Sunday’s win against the Steelers from the confines of his basement, that is the key takeaway from today. Nothing against special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who did a fine job filling in for Stefanski, but the Chiefs present a much bigger challenge than the Steelers, so having the head coach back on the sidelines is a major plus for the Browns.

It was not all good news, however, as Cleveland is still without two starting offensive linemen in Second-Team All-Pro left guard Joel Bitonio and First-Team All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin.

Several reports in the past few days had Bitonio being cleared from the Reserve/COVID-19 list in time to return to practice today. But that did not happen, and while the Browns are reportedly still hoping that Bitonio will be back, the fact that he has still not been activated is a bit concerning.

For now, the coaching staff is still waiting, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt told Nate Ulrich of The Beacon Journal:

“Getting Joel back, obviously, would be big, and hopefully that’ll be the case. We’ll see here later in the week. Joel’s a huge part of our success offensively on that left side, and to plug him back in there would be huge for us.”

The same goes for Conklin, who left the game against the Steelers in the second quarter with a hamstring injury. Conklin did not practice for the second consecutive day on Thursday, nor did linebacker B.J. Goodson and tight end David Njoku, and Stefanski said they are all “making progress,” which is not the same as saying “they are playing,” unfortunately.

If Conklin can’t go, veteran Kendall Lamm will likely take over at right tackle. If Bitonio can’t go, the Browns will likely turn to Blake Hance, who filled in at the end of the Pittsburgh game after Michael Dunn went down with a calf injury that subsequently landed him on the injured reserve list.