Drew Petzing

Browns Activate Joel Bitonio

The Browns have activated left guard Joel Bitonio off of the COVID-19 list, per a club announcement. To make room, the Browns waived safety Tedric Thompson. The Browns will also have head coach Kevin Stefanski back on the sidelines against Kansas City, now that he’s been cleared.

Bitonio tested positive for the coronavirus just prior to the Browns’ first-round playoff game against the Steelers. It was a huge loss, but the Browns still managed to throttle the Steelers in the first quarter and hold on for the victory. Now, they’ll have the three-time Pro Bowler back in action as they face the Chiefs in the divisional round.

Bitonio has been a rock for the Browns throughout his seven-year career, despite constant instability in Cleveland. Up until the diagnosis, Bitonio hadn’t missed a snap since 2016. Still, the Browns aren’t 100% healthy on the offensive line. Tackle Jack Conklin was forced out of the Steelers game with a hamstring and his status might not be determined until we get closer to kickoff.

In addition to activating Bitonio, the Browns moved wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge off their reserve/COVID list. They will also have all their coaches back after coronavirus issues forced them to miss last week’s game. Secondary coach Jeff Howard, tight ends coach Drew Petzing and assistant offensive line coach Scott Peters will all coach Sunday, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com notes (Twitter links).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Denzel Ward To Miss Wild-Card Game

The Browns’ uphill battle in their first playoff game in 18 years became steeper Saturday. The team announced it will be without top cornerback Denzel Ward in Pittsburgh.

Ward will remain on the Browns’ reserve/COVID-19 list. So will fellow starting cornerback Kevin Johnson, who also tested positive last week. Both missing last week limited a Browns secondary in a game when Mason Rudolph threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns.

Based on his timeline, coronavirus protocols would have allowed Ward to suit up against the Steelers. But this would have required Ward being asymptomatic and passing the necessary tests. The third-year corner has not hit the necessary checkpoints, which will leave the Browns shorthanded Sunday night. The NFL found some COVID-19 spread within the Browns but did not move to postpone the AFC North playoff matchup.

However, the Browns will have some players back for their Steelers tilt. The team activated safety Ronnie Harrison, linebacker Malcolm Smith and tight end Harrison Bryant from its virus list. Harrison tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, but the NFL deemed it a false positive, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports. Browns corner Terrance Mitchell was held out of practice Friday after testing positive, per Cabot, but that has also since been deemed a false positive.

The returns of Harrison, Smith and Bryant leave Ward, Johnson, Joel Bitonio and KhaDarel Hodge on Cleveland’s COVID list. Several coaches, however, will miss the game. Kevin Stefanski, offensive line coach Bill Callahan, assistant O-line coach Scott Peters, tight ends coach Drew Petzing and DBs coach Jeff Howard are out Sunday night. After coaching the Browns’ wide receivers last week, first-year Cleveland assistant Callie Brownson will coach tight ends this week, Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com tweets.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns Notes: Hunt, Brown, Woods, Staff

The Browns’ scrutinized gamble on Kareem Hunt went fairly smoothly this season, with the running back playing in eight games after serving his suspension for his actions during his Chiefs run. But Hunt ran into some more off-field trouble this week. Rocky River (Ohio) Police pulled him over for speeding and found small amounts of marijuana in three locations in the vehicle, Kaylee Remington of the Cleveland Plain Dealer notes. Hunt was placed in the backseat of a police cruiser but only charged for speeding. The NFL is aware of the incident, per a statement. This would mean far less were it not for Hunt’s history. A video showed the former rushing champion shoving and kicking a woman at a Cleveland hotel in 2018, leading to Hunt’s Chiefs departure. Hunt signed a one-year Browns contract but can be retained via RFA tender. However, with John Dorsey out of the picture, the talented back’s standing with the Browns may be less certain.

Here is the latest out of Cleveland:

  • Joe Woods is expected to become the next Browns defensive coordinator, though the 49ers have not given up on keeping him. The Browns are not expected to have a finalized agreement with Woods until after Super Bowl LIV and are holding off on making some hires to their defensive staff, Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer adds. Woods becoming Cleveland’s next DC would stand to result in the ex-Denver DC and current San Francisco DBs coach bringing him some handpicked staffers.
  • On the subject of Browns staffers, Kevin Stefanski is bringing in one of his former Vikings coworkers. Six-year Minnesota staffer Drew Petzing will become the Browns’ new tight ends coach, Cabot reports. Petzing coached quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs in Minnesota. The 32-year-old coach worked under then-quarterbacks coach Stefanski in 2018 and moved from assistant QBs coach to wideouts coach last year. Prior to his Vikings stay, however, Petzing spent the 2013 season as a Browns intern.
  • Fired less than two seasons into the radical rebuild Jimmy Haslam green-lit, Sashi Brown expressed concern about the Browns’ constant turnover. Currently working with the Washington Wizards, Brown hopes the next Browns GM will have a chance to build something. “I hope they get the time to do it and that there’s true alignment throughout the building and some conviction and what I would say the organizational faith that maybe hasn’t been there across some of the rash of change that’s been spinning around here for the better part of the last decade,” Brown said, via the Akron Beacon Journal’s Marla Ridenour. The Browns have moved on from a staggering five regimes since Haslam took over in 2012, and the instability has shown no signs of slowing down. GM frontrunner George Paton withdrew his name from consideration for the job Friday afternoon.

Coaching Notes: McCown, Kitchens, Woods

Whenever Josh McCown decides to hang up his cleats, it sounds like he’ll have an opportunity to pursue a new career path. Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Eagles discussed “the idea of [McCown] returning to the team in a coaching role” next season.

Notably, the exit meeting was attended by the 40-year-old quarterback, head coach Doug Pederson, general manager Howie Roseman… and owner Jeffrey Lurie, who rarely makes an appearance at those meetings. It’s uncertain if McCown was offered a definitive coaching gig, and the 40-year-old ultimately couldn’t commit to retirement. At the very least, it sounds like the organization is optimistic about the veteran’s coaching ability.

McCown had retired following the 2018 season and caught on with ESPN as an analyst. However, he later signed with the Eagles following injuries to backups Nate Sudfeld and Cody Kessler. The 18-year veteran ended up appearing in three games for Philly, and he filled in for Carson Wentz during the team’s playoff loss to the Seahawks.

Let’s check out some more coaching notes from around the league…

  • Earlier this month, we heard whispers that former Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens could land with the Giants. However, Dan Duggan of The Athletic writes that the coach “isn’t a lock” to land in New York. We learned yesterday that the two sides still hadn’t finalized an agreement. Kitchens worked alongside new Giants head coach Joe Judge during their time at Mississippi State, and there was speculation that the 45-year-old could join the staff as a tight ends coach. The Browns went 6-10 during Kitchens’ lone season as their head coach, and he was canned following the regular season.
  • Before hiring Patrick Graham as their defensive coordinator, the Giants had interest in Saints defensive backs coach Aaron Glenn, reports Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post (via Twitter). While he missed out on the gig, the 47-year-old still interviewed for another role on the Giants coaching staff today. Prior to this stint with New Orleans, the 1994 first-round pick served as the Browns assistant defensive backs coach.
  • Joe Woods is the favorite to become the Browns defensive coordinator, but the 49ers won’t let that happen without a fight. Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune tweets that San Francisco is making a “late push” to retain their defensive backs coach/passing game coordinator. Woods has coached in the NFL since 2004, and he served as the Broncos defensive coordinator between 2017 and 2018.
  • Speaking of the Browns, head coach Kevin Stefanski confirmed that three assistants will be sticking around next season (via the team’s website): special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, assistant special teams coach Doug Colman and run game coordinator/running backs coach Stump Mitchell.
  • Vikings receivers coach Drew Petzing won’t be back with the team next season, reports Goessling (via Twitter). Petzing had spent the past six seasons with the organization, spending time with wideouts, running backs, and quarterbacks.

Vikings Hire Rick Dennison

Previously rumored to be following Gary Kubiak to Minnesota, Rick Dennison made it official. After a lengthy delay, the Vikings announced Dennison will serve as their offensive line coach.

Dennison became connected to this role when Kubiak accepted an assistant head coach position with the Vikings, but the Jets and Packers expressed interest in Dennison. The former Texans, Broncos and Bills OC coached the Jets’ offensive linemen last season.

The 2019 season will mark Dennison’s 18th season on staff with Kubiak, whose return as the Broncos’ OC was scuttled due to wanting to bring former Denver assistants Dennison and Brian Pariani — now the Vikings’ tight ends coach — back to Denver as part of his offensive staff. The Broncos preferred Mike Munchak be their offensive line coach instead and ended up going in that direction, severing ties with Kubiak.

Dennison, who will also serve as Minnesota’s run game coordinator, worked with the Broncos from 1995-2009 and again from 2015-16. The Bills fired him as OC after the 2017 season. This will be a key position gig for the 60-year-old coach, with the Vikings’ struggles up front playing a key role in the team missing the playoffs after it entered last season as a Super Bowl contender.

Previous Vikings offensive line coach Andrew Janocko will stay on staff. He will now work under Dennison as assistant O-line coach, the Vikings announced. Janocko served as Minnesota’s assistant O-line coach in 2017, serving under Tony Sparano. After Sparano’s 2018 death, the Vikings promoted Janocko.

The team also announced Drew Petzing will have a new title, rising from assistant quarterbacks coach to head wideouts coach. Petzing served as Minnesota’s assistant receivers coach from 2016-17.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Staff Notes: Chargers, 49ers, Falcons, Colts

Former Falcons defensive coordinator Richard Smith is interviewing for the Chargers‘ linebackers coach position, according to Jack Wang of the Orange County Register. Smith was fired by Atlanta on Wednesday after leading a defense that finished just 27th in DVOA, but linebackers are his specialty, as he’s coached the position at four other NFL stops. Smith’s interview could mean Los Angeles expects Robert Saleh, the team’s other candidate for ‘backers coach, to land the 49ers DC gig.

Here’s more from the 2017 hiring cycle:

  • New 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has lured yet another former Falcons staffer to San Francisco, as ex-Atlanta assistant Mike LaFleur will be the 49ers’ next wide receivers coach, tweets Alex Marvez of the Sporting News. LaFleur, who spent the previous two seasons with the Falcons after working in Cleveland during the 2014 campaign, is the brother of Matt LaFleur, who recently left Atlanta to become the Rams’ offensive coordinator. The 49ers also announced they’ve hired Nick Kray (administrative assistant to the head coach), T.C. McCartney (offensive assistant), and Ray Wright (strength and conditioning).
  • Although Chris Ballard left Kansas City to become the Colts‘ new general manager, Chiefs GM John Dorsey doesn’t expect Ballard to poach any KC staffers “right now,” tweets Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star. Typically, an executive will try to bring at least a few low-level front office employees along to a new job, but it sounds like Ballard will be starting from scratch, and rolling with the incumbent Indianapolis staff for the time being.
  • The Falcons promoted Marquand Manuel to defensive coordinator earlier today, but that wasn’t the only change the club made to its defensive staff. As expected, Bryant Young has been named as Atlanta’s defensive line coach, replacing the fired Bryan Cox, while defensive assistant Doug Mallory has been promoted to secondary coach, taking over for Manuel, the club announced today.
  • Broncos assistant defensive backs backs coach Samson Brown had been set to join ex-Denver coordinator Wade Phillips on the Rams‘ coaching staff, but he’s experienced a last-minute change of heart and will be staying in Denver, per Marvez (Twitter link). It’s unclear how Brown’s decision will affect longtime NFL coach Johnnie Lynn, who was reportedly hired to replace Brown with the Broncos.
  • The Buccaneers have made a series of changes to their coaching staff and personnel department, according to Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times, who reports the Bucs have promoted Zack Grossi to offensive quality control coach, hired Anthony Perkins to replace Grossi as the club’s assistant to the head coach, and hired former NFL tight end Alex Smith as a pro scout. Tampa Bay has also hired Skyler Fulton as an offensive assistant, tweets Adam Caplan of ESPN.com.
  • Vikings offensive assistant Drew Petzing could be a candidate for the club’s vacant wide receivers coach role, reports Andrew Kramer of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (Twitter link). Longtime Minnesota WRs coach George Stewart defected for the Chargers earlier this offseason.