CLEVELAND (AP) Myles Garrett has been slowed down just when the Browns need him most.
Cleveland’s dynamic star defensive end and the NFL’s leader in sacks will miss Sunday’s game against Philadelphia – and maybe more – after testing positive for COVID-19, dealing the Browns a major blow as they try to end an 18-year playoff drought.
”He is a good player,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Friday. ”We know that. We do not want to be without him, but we are.”
The Browns (6-3) won’t have Garrett against the Eagles and there’s no predicting when he’ll be back. According to league rules, a player who tests positive for coronavirus can’t return to the team until at least 10 days after the onset of symptoms, plus at least 24 hours after symptoms have passed.
Garrett stayed home from practice on Wednesday and Thursday because he was showing symptoms. After facing the Eagles (3-5-1), the Browns will visit Jacksonville on Nov. 29.
Stefanski said he wasn’t sure exactly when Garrett first began experiencing coronavirus symptoms, which would trigger the start to a timeline for his return. The first-year coach added he doesn’t know when Garrett will be available.
”I would not speculate at this point,” he said. ”But I think as the days go by here we will know a little bit more.”
On Thursday, Stefanski anticipated Garrett being back on Friday. However, when the positive result came back, the team followed league-mandated protocols and placed the soon-to-be 25-year-old on the list, which ruled him out for at least the Philadelphia game.
Garrett, who has 9 1/2 sacks and has made a major play in each of Cleveland’s six wins, won’t get a chance to pad his stats against an Eagles offensive line that has allowed quarterback Carson Wentz to be sacked a league-leading 35 times.
The Browns will use a rotation of players to replace the irreplaceable Garrett. Adrian Clayborn and rookie Porter Gustin figure to get snaps at end, and tackle Sheldon Richardson may slide to the outside.
If there’s a silver lining for the Browns it’s that they’ve survived this season despite a spate of injuries. They went four games without star running back Nick Chubb, who came back last week and ran for 126 yards in a win over Houston.
”We talked about this a lot this year,” Stefanski said. ”It is 2020. Expect the unexpected. So, whoever is available to us I promise you, we will be ready to roll on Sunday and the guys know that.”
Garrett’s situation is a huge break for the Eagles, who have had enough trouble protecting Wentz and don’t have to worry about Cleveland’s No. 95.
”He’s having a heck of a season, leader of that football team. Listen, I can’t speak specifically on their behalf, but I know that if it was obviously one of our players in that position, it’s a blow,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said after learning about Garrett’s status. ”Just like us, the next guy steps up, the next guy has to play, next guy is going to be prepared.
”And listen, there’s 10 other guys on that defense that can also play, and it’s a good defense. We’ve got to be ready. We’ve got to be focused in and dialed in on what we’re doing.”
Pederson’s right. It is a potentially major setback to the Browns, who have spent the week dealing with virus-related issues. The team placed starting right tackle Jack Conklin, kicker Cody Parkey and fullback Andy Janovich on the COVID list earlier and their availability for Sunday is still in question.
Offensive lineman Chris Hubbard was placed on the list last week after testing positive.
Stefanski said he’s ”hopeful” Conklin and Parkey will be activated on Saturday, but he’s not clear on when Janovich or Hubbard could return.
Losing Garrett for any length of time is tough. The No. 1 overall draft pick in 2017 has been playing at an elite level in 2020. He’s changed several games with strip sacks while helping the Browns to their best nine-game record since 2014.
Garrett’s presence alone makes quarterbacks nervous. His ability to turn the corner while rushing off the edge is unique for a player his size, and he has the speed to chase down quarterbacks – as Houston’s Deshaun Watson learned when he barely beat Garrett to the sideline last week.
”Just a tremendous athlete,” Pederson said. ”Quick off the ball. He is long. He is powerful. He does a great job of swiping at the quarterback’s arm. He knows how to bend. This guy, he is one of those freak athletes.”
Garrett, who signed a five-year, $125 million contract extension in July, has been on a mission this season. His 2019 season ended abruptly and amid controversy when was suspended six games by the league for swinging his helmet and striking Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph in the head.
Without Garrett, the Browns went 2-4, lost their last three games and entered another offseason of change.
For now, they’re without him again.
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner contributed.
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