CLEVELAND – The Browns didn’t avoid COVID-19 while on vacation.
Cleveland placed defensive end Porter Gustin on the reserve / COVID-19 list on Thursday, further weakening a group already lacking star Myles Garrett and making the final move for a Browns team hard hit by the virus in recent weeks.
Gustin’s positive test forced the Browns to close their facility for the third day in a row to perform contact tracking. It also changed Coach Kevin Stefanski’s practice schedule again as he prepares the Browns (7-3) for Sunday’s game in Jacksonville.
The Cleveland defense did not take to the field on Thanksgiving because the unit was limited to virtual meetings only.
The Browns will not be close to full strength this week and it is good that they will be playing the Jaguars (1-9) who are dealing with their own COVID issues.
With Gustin out, the Browns will be missing five players, including Garrett and defensive end Joe Jackson against the coronavirus, which has spiked in the NFL and across the country.
Starting linebacker Sione Takitaki and fullback Andy Janovich are also on the COVID list after positive testing.
Top cornerback Denzel Ward will also sit out Sunday’s game with a calf strain that is expected to keep him off the field for several weeks.
Garrett also missed last week’s 22-17 victory over Philadelphia after testing positive for the virus. Stefanski did not provide details on Garrett’s condition on Wednesday, but said he hoped the 2017 No. 1 pick, which has 9 1/2 sacks, will return for the December 6 game in Tennessee.
Also on Wednesday, the Browns put Takitaki on the COVID list and kept eight players out of practice as a precaution. Stefanski had his team practice shifts in the team’s field house to check for possible spread of the virus.
Takitaki returned an interception for a touchdown against the Eagles and the Browns had five sacks, including a safety, to continue their best start since 1994.
The Browns had good news as offensive lineman Chris Hubbard was triggered off the COVID list after testing positive on Nov. 13. He missed two games.
Hubbard played in seven games and made four starts this season. He stepped into the court watch when Wyatt Teller was sidelined with a calf load for three weeks and Hubbard played the right tackle while Jack Conklin was injured.