Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine met with the media prior to the team's practice on Thursday. Pettine talked about the difference between Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge, whether our new receiver will see action this week, the battle between Joe Haden and Antonio Brown, and more. The transcript is organized by topic below, or you can watch the news conference here.
Preparing for the Steelers
On how practice was to start Steelers week: "I think they’re, as probably all the teams are, excited for the opener. A lot of work’s been put in, a lot of preparation. We’ve gone through a lot this offseason and through training camp, and I just think things are starting to settle and guys very much have tunnel vision on Pittsburgh. I think they’re, as we all are, looking forward to the challenge."
On if he tells the rookies what to expect playing in their first NFL game and if there is a concern with them: "No, because I think they’ve gotten a taste of it at least in the preseason. I think that the guys that will help them the best with that…that’s going to come from veteran players not necessarily coming from a coach. I’m confident that the guys in the room – whether it’s a (Browns DB Donte) Whitner, a (Browns LB Karlos) Dansby, (Browns OL) Joe Thomas – those types of guys will be a good resource for those rookies."
On if it’s tougher to get a player up to speed against a defense as complex as Pittsburgh’s: "It could be. It’s something that we’re tasked to do. To me, it’s league wide. I think early in the year when you are pulling guys and looking to supplement your depth and then all of a sudden that guy has to go in a play for you. I think you can respond accordingly with what you’re calling. If you have a player in there that maybe knows half the playbook, then you stick to that half when he’s in there."
Getting the Tight Ends Ready to Contribute
On if TE Jordan Cameron is ready to be the main focus of the passing offense: "I think so. I think he’s an exceptional athlete. I think he’s really worked hard at his craft this offseason. You can tell it’s important to him. I think (Browns tight ends coach) Brian Angelichio has done an outstanding job with him. Those two spent a lot of time before practice, after practice. He wants to be great, and that shows up in his preparation."
On if he thought Cameron would get extra attention from defenses as a downfield threat if WR Josh Gordon would be able to play: "Yeah I think so. If you just watch the tape from last year, he’s a viable threat not just in the red zone. I think he’s a big target that can run. I think anytime you go into a game and the opponent has a tight end like that, that’s somebody that you certainly have to pay attention to. I think it’s correct to say that he would have been a focal point for most defenses regardless.
On how TEs Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge differ: "They’re very similar. I would say Dray’s more of the pure-blocker type if you had to kind of look at the blocking to receiving continuum, and Dray’s probably lean more towards the blocker type where Barnidge would probably be a little bit closer to the middle."
Active Running Backs & The WR Situation
On how many running backs he expects to have on Sunday against the Steelers: "The plan for now is three, but that’s still potentially subject to change."
On what he thinks of WR LaRon Byrd and if he will play on Sunday: "He’s big. He looks the part. When I talked about drawing guys – if you said draw a wide receiver you might draw him. He’s a guy that’s got some length, but he does have some burst to him. It’s early. It’s been a very limited sample size of what we’ve seen from him, but we like it. It’s one of the reasons he’s here, and as far as the playing goes, I’m not sure how much he’ll get worked in. That definitely remains to be seen, but he’s a guy that we were happy we were able to get here."
On how he feels about WR Miles Austin heading into week one and if he feels that he can reach some of the production he had before his injury: "We’re hopeful. He feels good. We’ve been very aware of his repetitions and how much of a workload he’s been taking knowing that it is a long season. That’s something that I think will a pay dividends for us in the long run. I think, just like everybody else, he’s looking forward to getting out there and competing. I think he’s gotten some quality reps in the preseason, but we haven’t overdone it in big part so he can go out there and be fresh and productive on Sundays."
Arranging the Locker Room Differently
On if the locker room not being arranged by position group is his doing and why: "I think the guys, from a position standpoint, spend enough time together as it is, whether it’s in their meeting rooms or where they sit in the team room. Most of the positions, they sit pretty close together. That’s just something that I’ve seen before, and I’m just a believer in it that you get to know your teammates. It doesn’t need to be kind of these little clusters of positions, these independent subcontractors. We’re all together. I just think you can go one or two ways with it, but I think they spend enough time together elsewhere. I just think it’s a good way to build team."
Battle Between Joe Haden & Antonio Brown
On DB Joe Haden being able to match-up with Steelers WR Antonio Brown: "It’s important. That’s a big part of our system. I don’t know if it’ll be an all-day thing that we can mix and match what we do coverage-wise. I’m never a fan of kind of giving an offense just a steady diet of the same matchups and the same types of coverages. There will be times that he’s single. There will be times when he’s doubled. Joe will be involved with that a lot. Sometimes, he won’t. It’s good when you have a guy, you have that comfort with an elite corner that you can say, ‘Hey, he can go against this guy,’ and feel that he can hold his own."
On Haden saying that Steelers WR Antonio Brown is the toughest receiver that he plays against and if he understands why Brown could give Haden trouble when they are similar heights: "Yeah, it’s funny with corners. Every corner kind of has their style that’s basically like kryptonite to them. It was (49ers WR) Stevie Johnson with (Patriots DB Darrelle) Revis because of the unique way that he came off the ball. Some corners prefer to cover guys that are higher cut, that have a higher center of gravity so they can stay low and kind of use their quickness and be a half-a-step ahead. Sometimes smaller guy will give a smaller guy trouble. It’s like anything else mostly in sports. It’s about matchups and some guys just give other guys more trouble than others."
On if he’s not a fan of putting his best cornerback on the best receiver the entire game: "Correct."
On if he did that with Revis: "Yes, there were times we would just go left-right. We would go field-boundary. A lot of times when teams were going faster we didn’t necessarily match. We just wanted to stay on particular sides. If we felt a team had a boundary tendency to throw the ball or we would have load coverage one direction and put whether it was to the field or the boundary and put Revis away from that, and it was regardless of who was there if we felt he could cover the No. 1 or the No. 2. I just think it goes back to offensive coordinators are pretty good as the gather information throughout the game. I think if you settle into a constant you’re giving them something all the time, then they’ll adjust accordingly. I think that’s just part of being a good defense is mixing things up and trying to stay one step ahead."
What Whitner Brings to the Locker Room
On what he knows now about Whitner now that he didn’t before they brought him in: "We knew a lot coming in. I have some connection in San Fran and have known about him for a long time. He’s a guy that was as advertised and then some, just his level of buy-in, his leadership, how important this is to him. It wasn’t just talk when he talked in the press conference about how important it was, not just for the Browns to do well, but for the Browns to do well in turn for the city. You can see he’s backed that up with his actions. He absolutely loves football – eats it, breathes it, sleeps it – and he makes the guys around him better."
On Whitner getting after teammates on the field: "Yeah, but the way he does it is not in a derogatory way. It’s more of a pump you up or a ‘Hey, you know better’ or ‘You can’t do that’ and ‘Hey, that’s not what we do.’ It’s not just getting after a guy in a negative way. I think that’s a skill. I’ve seen guys do it the other way and it doesn’t go over well. You better be batting 1.000 if you’re going to be jumping on your teammates harshly. Ray Lewis was a lot like that in Baltimore, Ed Reed with the guys in the secondary, very similar. That type of leadership where guys are playing because part of the reason is they don’t want to let that guy down, and if you have a guy with that type of leadership ability I think it can be special."
Upset About the Steelers' Non-Suspensions?
On if it burns him that the Steelers will have two running backs on the field Sunday who were involved in a marijuana incident, while Gordon will not be able to play: "It doesn’t just because I know there’s a thing called due process, and I know the league has their system for how they handle it. Assuming that something occurred there, they will be punished at some point. You could just knee jerk reaction look at it and get upset about it, but we deal in the certainties. They’re going to be out there, and we have to defend them."
On Pittsburgh seemingly having a better running game this year and why it will be better this year: "I think part of it will come from a commitment. They lost some linemen I think in the first game. I know the center went down, who many people consider, as I do, their best offensive lineman. That’s a big blow. A lot of times it can be how a game is going – building a lead. If you’re behind, you’re going to have to throw it more. Certainly bringing in (Steelers RB) LeGarrette Blount is a signal to most that they’re going to not just have (Steelers RB Le’Veon) Bell, but have kind of that two headed monster at running back. Their offensive line is…they’re big. They’re maulers. They’re built to run the football. It’s something that…they did it some last year, and I can see it being an increased commitment this year."
On his thoughts on WR Josh Gordon being a goodwill ambassador selling cars while he’s suspended: "Just due to the rules of the suspension, we’re not allowed to have contact with him, so I was really just finding out that news as well. That’s something that I don’t really want to get into just because I really only want to discuss the guys that are here. That’s a situation…I’m sure it will be well covered, but just internally, like we said before, we want what’s best for him. We’re just hopeful that that will occur, and we’ll see how things play out down the road."
Loose Ends - Shanahan, Improvements, McQuistan
On what has impressed him about Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan: "His level of organization, attention to detail, his adaptability. I think just kind of watching him formulate a game plan, to go from that large volume of inventory to be able to pick out, ‘We’re going to do this and here’s why.’ I think his detailed knowledge of defensive football, and we’ve had many discussions about it, I think much further advanced than some other guys that I’ve been around. If you have a great understanding of defense that’s only going to make you a much better offensive coach and I think he’s a good example of that."
On what part of the Browns has improved the most from last year: "I just think it’s hard because I wasn’t here it’s hard to say, but just from how we’ve changed the roster it’s been obvious that we’ve made a lot of changes in the secondary, specifically at corner, brought Whitner in to complement (Browns DB Tashaun) Gipson. At inside linebacker, drafting a (Browns LB Chris) Kirksey and bringing in a Dansby. The d-line here was obviously one of the strengths. It was pretty deep, and the outside backers. Offensively, adding that piece to the offensive line in (Browns OL Joel) Bitonio, and then just also running back – looking to bring in (Browns RB Ben) Tate and draft a (Browns RB Terrance) West I think was important. I just think just overall that we’re promoting that team concept. Like I said, I wasn’t here. I can’t speak on it, but I think if you want to be great as a team that you have to learn to be a team. That’s maybe one of the reasons that goes back to the locker room question is our guys have to learn to play well together. There are so many teams that have great individual stars, but just don’t win. I think you’ve seen so many teams with lesser talent find ways to win week-in and week-out. They’re winning more than they lose. Why is that? I think that’s the one thing that we’ve pushed here from the beginning is that it’s all about the team and every decision we make and everything that we push for will be to promote the team concept."
On OL Paul McQuistan being injured and having several new additions to the offensive line is an antsy situation: "It is, and we’re still not sure of his availability yet. That’s part of coaching, especially early in the year when the roster, the back-up depth part of it, it’s getting shuffled. It’s why coaches get paid. We’re bringing a guy in, fly him in on a Monday and say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to have him ready for Sunday. We’ve got to get creative with what we do, whether it’s put a wrist band on him or tell the guy next to him or give him a thinking buddy or whatever it is that we have to do to get it done. We’re tasked with putting guys out there that can function at a high level. That, to me, is one of the exciting challenges of coaching, taking a guy that doesn’t know the system and in a short period of time getting him up to speed."