BEREA, Ohio — There was a buzz on the practice field Monday as the Browns returned from their bye with several starters, including star running back Nick Chubb, returning from injuries.
However, there was a noticeable absence: the quarterback.
Baker Mayfield remains away from the team after being placed on the COVID-19 list because he came in close contact with a staff member who tested positive for the coronavirus. Mayfield has tested negative to this point and he could return Wednesday as the Browns (5-3) get ready to host the Houston Texans (2-6) on Sunday.
“I can’t really get into it,” coach Kevin Stefanski said of Mayfield's status. "We are just following all the protocols. In this day and age, all of our guys are doing their absolute best. Nothing is foolproof, but we will make sure that we just follow all of the rules.”
Stefanski said Mayfield participated virtually in team meetings. It's impossible to predict whether he'll practice, let alone play, this week.
“Anytime you are not out there, you wish you had all of your guys out there to get the reps, that is just natural,” Stefanski said. "But we will make sure we bring him up to speed as soon as he is back in the building.”
Mayfield's tenuous situation underscores the importance of players adhering to protocols inside and outside the team's facility. Stefanski doesn't think there was anything more the team could have done to protect Mayfield.
“We try to be very careful and try to make sure at every moment we are reminding the guys,” he said. "At some points, there are going to be some unfortunate moments, but I can promise you all of our guys are being diligent about this.
"No one, I can promise you, is flippant in any way about the rules, protocols, etc. All of us have to make sure that we stay on top of it.”
Chubb's return was the most noteworthy, but the Browns are closer to full strength than they've been in some time with right guard Wyatt Teller (calf) and tight end Austin Hooper (appendectomy) also practicing with the starting offence for the first time in weeks.
“It is awesome having Wyatt Teller back and just the juice he brings and the physicality and the nastiness,” Hooper said of his teammate. “Definitely a guy that is a lot of fun to play with on game day when he is burying people.”
Wearing a knee brace, Chubb changed directions quickly while doing individual drills during the portion of practice open to media members. He's been out since spraining his right medical collateral ligament in the first quarter of Cleveland's Oct. 4 win at Dallas.
As long as he doesn't have any setbacks, Chubb could return to the lineup this week.
“I was joking, he was fresh legs out there," Stefanski said. "He looked like Nick looks. He was ready to roll out there at practice. Obviously, he is chomping at the bit. He has done everything in this rehab that has been asked of him. As you can imagine, he has attacked it. We will see how the week unfolds here.”
A Pro Bowler after gaining 1,494 yards last season, Chubb rushed for 335 yards and four touchdowns in four games before injuring his knee. When he was healthy, the Browns led the NFL in rushing and their offence hasn't been the same without Chubb.
Also, with receiver Odell Beckham Jr. out for the rest of 2020 with a torn knee ligament, the Browns need Chubb as they try to end the league's longest playoff drought.
The Browns will start the season's second half healthier than they've been in weeks.
“The NFL season is a slog,” Stefanski said. "Every game comes at you and every team deals with injuries. We are no different. To get this bye right in the middle and to be able to have guys that are coming back potentially off of this can be a big boost to our guys.
"Nobody feels 100 per cent . That is just how it goes. They are all battling through different things, but it is nice to have those guys back out there.”
NOTES: LG Joel Bitonio (elbow) rode a stationary bike and is not expected to miss any time. ... RT Jack Conklin was excused from practice for a personal reason. He'll be back Wednesday.
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Tom Withers, The Associated Press