The Cleveland Browns are in full swing in the plush confines of the Greenbrier in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia. Anyone who has been to this location will tell you it is the best and most tranquil places on earth.
Each day Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski held a press conference after practices. Here are the high points of each:
Stefanski opened his initial presser by stating how excited it was to be back and in a place that would encourage team bonding. He also mentioned that after the team leaves Greenbrier he will welcome the fans to Berea for the team’s first open practice on August 1st.
His main message was the fact that the franchise has been very busy building a foundation since the spring. Stefanski stated that a strong foundation will survive storms that are a certainty to come. He noted that each person in camp placed their name on a contract to be where they currently are. He wants players to commit to the Browns and stand for something.
Stefanski spent some time discussing where Deshaun Watson currently is. He stated:
“You know, we’ve talked about that with you guys and with Deshaun. It’s definitely different knowing that he’s our starter in Week 1 and we have him for the season. It helps as we practice, it helps him get the maximum number of reps that he needs to get ready.”
Everyone involved with the offense realizes this season will focus on what the quarterback can do for this football team. They signed Watson and gave him all that money for a reason. It seems very clear to Stefanski that Watson understands how critical it is this year to be prepared.
“He’s in a really good place. I’m thrilled with where he is grasping this system and the kid just works constantly. What he did in this break and getting everybody together really speaks to his leadership, which I think is really apparent to you when you see him interact with his teammates.”
Stefanski also addressed WR Marquise Goodwin and his recent health scare. He answered that media question with:
“First of all, it’s very scary. I mean, it’s an unknown. So right away you worry about Marquise and just his health, period. I think all of it remains to be seen from a health standpoint and when he’s ready to go. In the meantime, we’re just supporting him and he’s listening to doctors, but he wants to be here – he wants to be around his teammates. But where this goes, I don’t think that we know yet. I think we’re just going to make sure that we support him and give him everything he needs medically.”
At this juncture, it seems the franchise will be very cautious. All they can really do until all the tests are performed and analysis has been completed by medical personnel. Until then, everything is just an unknown.
Stefanski also mentioned his coaching staff needs continuity as the season rolls along but didn’t relate much on this subject.
Watson again was thought for training camp. Stefanski has shown that the Browns have an elite unit along the offensive line which only gives Watson more ability to see coverage and schemes and hopefully won’t have to be flushed out of the pocket on passing downs. As the head coach, Stefanski admits that he has a willingness to be more flexible in this aspect. He also mentioned that he doesn’t have an issue with adapting his offense to accommodate a more mobile quarterback than he has had in the past and that the trust has grown between the two men.
“Every scheme you better be evolving every single year. Structure-wise how we call things remains the same in some areas. And some you want to change some verbiage and challenge guys. Game plans adjust from week to week. When the quarterback likes to play, I like to play. When the quarterback is comfortable with the play, he typically makes it work. When we design everything, it fits Deshaun’s eyes. Maybe it’s a concept he has done over the years or a concept we both saw and he really likes it. As we go along with our installs, seeing what fits him, fits our line, fits our offense, fits Nick (Chubb), and pass catchers. That is the work we are doing right now. He is good from the shotgun, the pistol, and the dot.”
One question he was asked was if the playbook has gotten bigger now that the team has a more mobile quarterback. Stefanski explained:
“Volume is something we talk about all the time because you don’t want to do too much. Then it becomes diluted. We think long and hard about giving our guys a system that makes sense and is difficult for the defense to defend. If you try to be too much then you aren’t any good at anything. You want to compliment what you do. You want a system where your guys can play fast. And with too much volume that tends to slow people down.”
The question of Nick Chubb’s role going forward came about, especially now that he no longer will share carries with the departed Kareem Hunt, plus the possible evolution of the offense. Stefanski said this:
“Nick is a huge part of our offense – handing it to him, throwing to him. He is adept at both. As we evolve maybe some different run types come in. We have very good empirical data on him that is tried and true. I don’t know if there are limits himself as a player. He is a schematic fit for anything we do. He is a good runner when you spread it out and he is a good runner when he has everybody blocking for him. You never have to worry about Nick. He will do it exactly how it was coached to be done.”
The focus for Day 3 was to begin adding some situations and was the first practice to have some actual minor contact although at a slower pace until the full pads go on. Muscle tolerance was also a focus and ramping from a physical standpoint. Stefanski mentioned Friday and Saturday would be in full pads.
Stefanski was asked what he was looking for in JOK this year. He surmised:
“I think it comes down to health. He wants to be healthy and strong. He is in really, really good shape and looks strong. Availability is key and being able to stay on the field. He has been a little bit unlucky. He has really taken care of his body. His new number is kinda that mindset change. But he is doing everything in his power to help this team win. He can be aggressive at times but will hit the back door of a run play and make the play. We want JOK to be aggressive.”
On Amari Cooper’s injury situation:
“No long-term concerns. It will be a few days, but he is feeling good. I really don’t know much beyond that at this point.”
TE David Njoku has had some good stretches and then he has been invisible. Stefanski was asked what it would take to elevate him to the next level:
“I would hope there is a next level for everybody’s game. David has taken great strides in his run blocking, and pass blocking. We know where he is as a pass receiver just from his physical state and the way he can run and catch. It’s just growth in every single area. He is certainly up for it and hopefully will stay healthy. He is a warrior and plays through a lot of injuries.”
One of the major upgrades this year has been at the defensive tackle position. Two rookies, the release of Perrion Winfrey, and three free agents have changed this unit tremendously. Stefanski was asked specifically about the addition of Dalvin Tomlinson. His response:
“He is a pro. He fits in really well with our guys. A conscientious person, intelligent, likes to work, and doesn’t shy away from that at all. I think he fits into who we are. Veteran presence is important. Defensively having some older guys with some younger guys. But having a guy who has been through some battles is great.”
Then there was the question of how the owners have been patient with the progress of the franchise. After all, Stefanski began 11-5-0 and was the NFL Coach of the Year, and since has gone 8-9-0 and 7-10-0. Now the expectations are high. He offered this:
“Dee and Jimmy and the family have been so supportive of me, our coaching staff and group from Day 1. It is a testament of us being down here together. They are all involved which is great because we are all staying under one roof. They attend meetings and get involved. As far as expectations, we just focus on what is in front of us.”
Usually, teams bring in two kickers and punters as competition. This year, only Cade York is in camp. Was this by design? Stefanski explained:
“Cade is going into this second year and will get every rep. That is so important for young players. He competes against himself every day. I know you might say he is not being challenged, but all of us if we are doing our job are competing.”
This year’s first draft pick Cedrick Tillman came into a packed receiver room. Stefanski was asked if he would be getting Marquise Goodwin’s reps, and what his growth has been from May until the beginning of training camp:
“It’s early as far as reps, but obviously without Marquise out there, it does open up that possibility for a bunch of different players. Cedrick has done a nice job going back to the spring. He is very diligent, works hard at it, spends a lot of time at his craft, and is up very early and gets in extra work with Dorian (Thompson-Robinson). Because he wants to get it right. He is a young man who is doing it the right way and is just a matter of time of banking as many reps as possible.”
And finally, Stefanski was asked about new receiver Elijah Moore. His response:
“Speaking of taking your craft seriously, he practices hard. His practice tempo, how he is in walk-thru’s, he takes it very seriously. It’s great to be around a guy who really works at it. He has taken the bit on everything we have asked him to do trying to move him around in formations and things he has done well in his past. A very, very locked-in player. We love versatility, which in itself expands the playbook as we have players who can do more with every job. It is really valuable to have a guy who can inside and outside.”