The Cleveland Browns are reportedly losing Kevin Stefanski for the opening round of the NFL playoffs after he tested positive for COVID-19, putting offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt in line to call plays.
As ESPN reported, the Browns lost Stefanski and two other members of the coaching staff along with two players after they tested positive for the virus, meaning they will not be available for the Sunday night matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC wild card game. The Browns said that special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will take over as acting head coach, but Van Pelt is expected to take charge of the offense.
NFL Network reporter Mike Garofolo noted that the offense will be in familiar hands, as Van Pelt has experience calling plays in the past.
“#Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt called plays in training camp and was supposed to call them at times in the preseason that never happened so expect him to call plays Sunday against the #Steelers,” he tweeted.
It’s not yet clear if the team outbreak could stretch any further. The Browns closed their facility on Tuesday and are conducting contact tracing. As ESPN reported, team officials are working with the league and medical experts to determine what steps to take next. The Browns released a statement saying that the health and safety of players, coaches, staff, and the entire community was its top priority.
The outbreak has hit just after the franchise ended a nearly two-decade playoff drought, clinching a spot for the first time in 17 seasons with a Week 17 win over the Steelers. The teams meet for a rematch on Sunday night.
Van Pelt, the former starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, is seen as a rising star among NFL assistant coaches. He came to Cleveland last year after serving two seasons coaching quarterbacks for the Cincinnati Bengals. As the Browns official website noted after announcing his hiring back in February, Van Pelt came in with a knowledge of Cleveland’s roster through the divisional rivalry and was expected to work closely on the offense’s approach in 2020.
“And with 15 years of experience coaching quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers — on top of the decade he logged as an NFL player — Van Pelt brings the kind of diverse skill set to the position Stefanski — a versatile, experienced offensive coach himself — knew he wanted when he took the reins as head coach of the Browns,” the report noted.