Short week big test for Chudzinski

Posted Sep 30, 2013

The short preparation time for Thursday night’s game against the Buffalo Bills will be one of the major early tests for first-year head coach Rob Chudzinski.

Rob Chudzinski was a man on a mission as he walked through the Browns’ locker room on Sunday. 

The game was over. His postgame news conference was done.  He had changed out of his sideline gear and into his street clothes.

And there I was, wearing a big smile and ready to give him a congratulatory handshake for the Browns’ massive, 17-6 victory against the Bengals that was barely an hour old.

Chudzinski shook my hand and gave a polite, “Thanks.” But he never broke stride. He also offered only a faint smile and barely made eye contact, which is hardly typical of his dealings with me or most anyone else, including people he doesn’t know.

It didn’t take a genius to figure out that, in Chudzinski’s mind, the Cincinnati game already was ancient history and his thoughts were consumed by Thursday night’s clash with the Buffalo Bills. In fact, he was on his way to one of several meetings that would be held on Sunday night regarding preparation for the Bills.

Such is the nature of an NFL work week shortened by the next game being only four days away rather than seven. The study of videotape, the construction of a game plan, the conversations that coaches have amongst themselves and with players, the tweaking and adjusting and everything else that goes into getting ready for an opponent have to happen at an accelerated pace.

There is no time to reflect, no time to savor one of the biggest victories this team has had in a long time.

“That’s what I talked to the team about after the game,” Chudzinski said Monday during an appearance on “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford.” “It was a great win for us, a real team win. Guys played extremely hard and we competed and were able to make the plays when we needed to. But, ultimately, we’re hungry. We’ve got a lot of football ahead of us, and this game Thursday night will be a big game as well.” 

It’s a little unfortunate that the Browns’ coaches and players can’t enjoy the Cincinnati game as much as the rest of us are.

There was so much to love about the performance and the effort from the entire team, not just certain individuals. The Browns played with an attitude. They were more physical and aggressive than they’ve been in any game this season. 

They were dominant on defense. Brian Hoyer and the rest of the offense made just enough plays to complement the chokehold that the front seven and the secondary placed on Andy Dalton and the rest of the Bengals’ offensive playmakers.

And, for Chudzinski, it was, well, yesterday’s news.

Today, tomorrow, and the rest of the week is all about the Bills.

“It definitely feels good,” Chudzinski said, trying not to completely ignore the warm and fuzzy afterglow. “That’s the thing about the NFL, though. It could last for a couple hours, and (then) back to work, back in the office (Sunday) night getting ready for Buffalo on a short week.”

Getting ready, first, means players getting “healthy and recovered and reenergized in a short amount of time.”

It means dramatically changing the practice/meeting routine. For instance, the Browns held a late-afternoon workout on Monday. On Tuesday, the players’ normal day off in the NFL, they will have their only full-speed practice of the week. The rest of the time will be spent walking and jogging through drills so as to preserve as much energy as possible with no recovery time from the previous game.

This is a huge test for Chudzinski, arguably the biggest in his brief time as an NFL head coach. Coaches, like players, are creatures of habit. Weeks like this require adaptability and a firm grip on what needs to be done, even when the grips of others – especially players on a relatively young team – might be a little looser.

But Chudzinski has faced some fairly stern challenges so far. And he has handled them well for the most part.

He has dealt with injuries, including those that cost him the services of his top two right guards (Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston) for the first four games and his star rookie linebacker (Bakervious Mingo) for the opener and his star veteran linebacker (Jabaal Sheard), and key backups (defensive lineman Billy Winn and linebacker Quentin Groves) for Sunday's game. He has dealt with a quarterback change prompted by an injury to the previous starter. He has dealt with a trade that sent his starting running back packing after the second game of the season and the distraction of extreme (but short-lived) fan and media backlash.

There is reason to believe Chudzinski will be equally adept in his handling of this week.

“Guys have to really focus in on it mentally because it’s really a compacted week,” he said. “So they’re going to get a lot of information in a short amount of time and really have to be focused.

“The biggest thing is you have to move on from (Sunday), and I gave those (players) a heads-up that that’s what we were planning on doing (Monday), coming right in and getting after it.”

The man is on a mission, and it doesn’t allow any time for celebrating.

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