Browns Depleted Running Back Situation Is Less Bleak Than New England’S

Browns running backs were down to the bone at practice Wednesday with three backs on Covid-19/reserve and one on injured reserve. (

Browns running backs were down to the bone at practice Wednesday with three backs on Covid-19/reserve and one on injured reserve. (

Browns depleted running back situation is less bleak than New England’s

You must have an active subscription to read this story.

Click Here to subscribe Now!

 Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland.

Takeaways from Browns practice and interviews …

The Browns possibly could be without four running backs this week, but they’re still doing better than the New England Patriots, their opponent Sunday in Foxboro, MA, at that position.

Coach Kevin Stefanski declined to update the status of Nick Chubb, Demetric Felton and practice squadder John Kelly – each of whom was put on COVID-19/reserve as a result of positive tests. Also, the coach ruled out the possibility of Kareem Hunt (calf) coming off injured reserve.

So as the practice week got underway, the Browns were preparing D’Ernest Johnson to carry the rushing load against the Patriots, who are a solid 14th in rush defense (106.8 yards a game). Behind Johnson are two backs recently signed to the practice squad – Brian Hill and Dexter Williams. The Browns also have fullback Andy Janovich available.

But at least the Browns know that Johnson can get the job done in Bill Callahan’s zone-blocking run scheme. Johnson was the hero of a 17-14 win over the Broncos on Oct. 21 with 146 rushing yards and one touchdown.

The Patriots have had their running back room decimated by a season-ending injury to James White and concussions suffered by Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. That leaves Brandon Bolden and J.J. Taylor as New England’s only healthy running backs for Sunday. Bolden, a nine-year veteran, has 108 yards on 22 attempts in nine games. Taylor, who is 5-6 and 185 pounds, has 26 yards on 13 attempts.

Although Pats coach Bill Belichick praised Bolden’s contributions in his press conference on Wednesday (“Brandon’s had a good year for us.”), any deficiency at the running back position is bound to hurt a rookie quarterback such as Mac Jones more than it would hurt Baker Mayfield.

Further, there is a possibility Chubb and Felton could return in time to play in the game. For either to return, he would have had to experience no symptoms for 48 hours and then test negative for Covid-19 two times in the span of 24 hours.

 Assuming everything went well, either could return after a second negative test on Thursday.

So the situation at running back is not like the outbreak last year that wiped out the receivers room the night before leaving for a game against the Jets.

“We just have to be problem-solvers and see what comes, whether it is today, tomorrow or whatever,” Stefanski said. “That situation was a little bit different. It was later in the week with that. We will see who is available to us. We have contingency plans and just have to really deal with it day to day.”

Pay the man

A Brink’s truck pulled into the parking lot at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus just before the Browns’ scheduled practice. Coincidence? Yes. But very symbolic of GM Andrew Berry handing out new contracts this week.

In the last two days, Berry has locked up both All-Pro guards, Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller, with contracts through 2025.

On Tuesday, Teller, 26, received a four-year deal for a reported $56.8 million. He could have been a free agent in 2022. On Wednesday, Bitonio received a three-year deal for $48 million. Bitonio, 30, had another year to go on his existing contract.

In a press release, Berry said one of his top priorities this year was to make Bitonio a Brown “for the rest of his career.”

Since taking over as Browns GM in January of 2020, Berry has given contract extensions to Myles Garrett, Kareem Hunt, Nick Chubb, Teller and Bitonio. 

He also picked up the fifth-year options of tight end David Njoku, quarterback Baker Mayfield and cornerback Denzel Ward. Njoku’s contract runs out after this season and Mayfield and Ward are under contract through 2021 only.

“Two extremely deserving guys of those extensions,” Mayfield said of his two guards. “They protect me. They protect all of our guys. They are team-first guys. We’re very happy to have them extended, obviously, but that changes nothing for me. I’m just trying to find a way to win games, and everything else will take care of itself.”

High praise from Bill

Belichick is famous for showering respect on opponents and there was no shortage of praise for the Browns in his Wednesday availability with New England media.

On the Browns’ defensive ends: “ … the two guys on the edge, it’s hard to imagine them being better than what we saw last week, but they probably are. [Myles] Garrett’s about as good as they get. [Jadeveon] Clowney, we know what he is, so it starts there.”

On the special teams: “They’ve got three big guys, three linebackers, [Mack] Wilson, [Elijah] Lee, and [Sione] Takitaki that are really as good as we’ll see.”

On the Browns’ screen passing game: “Really good screen team. Screen to everybody. Screen to the backs. Screen to the tight ends. Probably the most tight-end screens we’ve seen. Screens at receivers. When [Demetric] Felton was in there, he was a big part of that, too. Screens, RPOs, bubble passes. When you combine it all, it shows up multiple times every game in some fashion."

On Browns coaching: “Well-coached. Coach [Bill] Callahan, [Mike] Priefer, [Joe] Woods, Stefanski. Real good staff. Experienced staff. Those guys have a lot of good experience. I’ve competed against all of them in the past, and they all are outstanding, especially Callahan. He probably does as good of a job as anybody we face.”

Brownie bits

Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (high ankle) was designated for return from injured reserve and was on the field for his first practice in four weeks. The designation gives the Browns three weeks to return JOK to the active roster and the feeling is that may happen for Sunday’s game, if his injury reacts favorable to practice …

Mayfield said he didn’t throw much at practice because of a sore foot. “Nothing major by any means,” he said …

Center Nick Harris became the fifth player this week put on COVID-19/reserve, which is the reason the Browns moved into “enhanced protocols.” That means everyone is tested every day (rather than twice a week), meetings are held via Zoom, the cafeteria is closed and all personnel are wearing masks inside the building.