According to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network on Tuesday, the two Cleveland Browns players that have tested positive for COVID-19, in addition to head coach Kevin Stefanski and position coaches Jeff Howard and Drew Petzing, are guard Joel Bitonio and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge.
Of Bitonio and Hodge, the former is obviously the bigger name as he’s a starter on the left side for the Browns. It’s a big blow for a Browns offensive line that likes to run and one that has had pass protection issues at times throughout the season.
With Bitonio almost surely not to play in Sunday’s Super Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, it means the Browns will more than likely need to play rookie Nick Harris or seldom used Michael Dunn at left guard. Harris, by the way, missed the Browns Week 17 game against the Steelers with a knee injury.
We’ll now have to see if he can resume practicing on Wednesday if the Browns even get to practice due to their recent COVID outbreak. As for Dunn, Sunday would be his first career NFL start if tabbed to replace Bitonio.
To make matters even worse on Sunday for Harris or Dunn, the Steelers player that will line up the most across from the Browns left guard spot during Sunday’s Super Wild Card game, defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, will enter that contest well-rested after having been held out of the team’s Week 17 regular season finale.
On top of everything else, Browns rookie tackle Jedrick Wills now won’t have the veteran Bitonio playing alongside him on Sunday. Wills and Bitonio didn’t have their best games of the season in pass protection in the Browns win against the Steelers this past Sunday.
Bitonio, who has made the Pro Bowl the last three seasons, is currently No. 1 in the NFL in pass block win rate and No. 11 in run block win rate among guards, according to ESPN Stats.
As for Hodge now being out for Sunday, he’s more a bit player. Even so, he did have two catches for 25 yards against the Steelers in Week 17. He’s played 291 offensive snaps this season.
UPDATE: Harris was placed on IR Tuesday along with Bitonio, Hodge and Olivier Vernon.