If this were a normal NFL offseason, the Cleveland Browns would be assembling on April 6 for their first full team meeting with head coach Kevin Stefanski.
These are not normal times, of course, so Stefanski is doing what every other NFL head coach is doing at this time - preparing as best he can for when the day comes that he can start working with his new team.
Stefanski is still working from his home in Minnesota while waiting for the time that he and his family can safely relocate to Northeast Ohio. In the meantime, he is working to keep things on track, as he explained during a conference call on Thursday, according to clevelandbrowns.com:
“We have a program that we are ready to roll out, pending some of the structure of what we are allowed to do. We preach this all the time that you have to be ready to adapt and you have to be ready to hit the curveball. I just think our group has been working really hard to make sure that we attack this offseason because it is a unique offseason. It is not one that I think people have seen before, but it is our job to attack this thing and make sure that we make great strides this offseason, regardless of what the structure of this offseason looks like.”
This is certainly not the way Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry expected their first season in charge of an NFL team would go like. But with every team working under the same restrictions, this will provide a good opportunity for everyone to show just how aligned they are and how well they can work together.
Here are a few other highlights from Stefanski’s conference call.
The new guys on defense fit the system
The Browns added safeties Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph, defensive linemen Andrew Billings and Adrian Clayborn, cornerback Kevin Johnson, and linebacker B.J. Goodson in free agency. While none of those players received as much attention as right tackle Jack Conklin and tight end Austin Hooper, Stefanski said they are still important, according to clevelandbrowns.com:
“As important as those Day 1 guys are – I know everybody really thinks about those guys first – it is really all of these guys, regardless of the day you got them and regardless of how you acquire them. All of them play a huge key into this thing. In terms of the defense, a lot of these guys may not be the biggest names, but I just know when you are putting a system together, you are looking for systematic fits. I think that is what we done so far on offense and defense. Particularly, I think we have added a few guys that fit our scheme that have some versatility. In the backend, you have guys that can play down safety, post safety and nickel. There is some versatility to the guys that we have added, which is really important when you are putting a new scheme together because there will be some moving parts making sure that you have everybody where you need them.”
The quarterback room is in much better shape
Veteran quarterback Case Keenum was signed to serve as Baker Mayfield’s backup, and that makes the quarterback room much stronger than it was in 2018, Stefanski said.
“I just think I believe in Baker Mayfield. He is our starting quarterback. I think he is a young player we have all seen glimpses of being a really good player. Organizationally, we believe in Baker Mayfield. This was part of my job and our job to surround him with people who are going to help make the best version of Baker Mayfield. That is myself and Alex Van Pelt, and then Case, he has done it all. He has been a starter, he has been a backup, he has had to fight to be the third-string guy on teams and he has been the undrafted player. Adding him, he knows his role perfectly. Everybody knows to get things done, it is good when you have role players that understand what their job is. I just felt it was important, and Case felt the same way. Our initial conversation with him was very upfront and he told us he had already circled this place as somewhere he felt like he could come in, be that backup and provide a ton of value at that position.”
OBJ and Jarvis Landry are on the mend
Starting wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are both recovering from offseason surgery and their rehab is going well, according to Stefanski:
“I think both of those guys are exactly where they need to be in terms of their rehab progression. I think (Senior Vice President of Player Health and Development) Joe Sheehan has been in touch with those guys every single day so he is very aware of where they are, what they are doing and how they are progressing. They were in the building quite a bit back in January and February so I got to talk and sit down with both of those guys and see them in the training room. They are doing everything they need to be [doing] and they are right where they need to be from a rehab standpoint.”
Draft preparations are “full steam ahead”
As the Browns prepare for the NFL Draft, which will take place in some fashion from April 23 through April 25, they are doing everything they can, Stefanski said.
“I am sure it looks a lot like the rest of the world. It is a lot of Zoom meetings or Microsoft Teams, whatever your favorite platform is. It is those virtual meetings. I sit in on the offensive staff meeting for a little while, and (offensive coordinator) Coach (Alex) Van Pelt is running that and we are sharing a screen and looking at drawing and then looking at some video and making corrections. (Defensive coordinator) Joe (Woods) is doing the same with the defensive staff. AB (Executive Vice President Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry) is having draft meetings as we speak. I was a fly on the wall as those guys were getting going. Obviously, the structure for some of these meetings are changing and what you can get done remotely maybe is not the same as maybe having everybody in the same room. The way we have attacked it is we are full steam ahead. Whatever the rules are, we will play by them, but it cannot slow down our preparation. I would say we are right on course for where we need to be.”
It has been the strangest offseason for Stefanski and everyone associated with the Browns and the NFL.
Given how things rarely go as planned with the Browns, this may turn out to be the best on-the-job training that Stefanksi could ask for.