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5 takeaways as Stefanski looks ahead to free agency, draft and more

The Browns head coach met with reporters Tuesday for the 1st time since the Browns’ AFC Divisional Round loss to the Chiefs

Just a month removed from winning NFL Coach of the Year, Kevin Stefanski made it clear Tuesday he was far from satisfied with his performance in his first year with the Browns.

"I have to be a better coach next year for this team and that is my goal," Stefanski said. "We are working really hard to find different ways for each of us to get better."

Stefanski touched on a number of other topics during his media session Tuesday with reporters, a virtual gathering that took the place of the press conference he would have done at the NFL Combine. 

1. A (Lack of) Change For the Better

Last week, Stefanski did something he'd never done before: Hired a coach without meeting him or her in person.

That coach was Jonathan Decoster, the Browns’ new offensive quality control coach who went through multiple virtual interviews with Stefanski and a number of others before landing the job. Decoster and Stefanski got to meet in person for the first time last week.

What makes this notable is that's all Stefanski had to do on the hiring front this offseason. Decoster, who replaces Seitu Smith, is the only new face on Stefanski's coaching staff, which comes back (almost) completely in full from last year. 

Stefanski called it a "very, very big deal" and said he was "very proud" it happened.

"I think I am really excited I am sitting here on March 2 and our whole coaching staff is hired and we can go full speed ahead from a schematics standpoint of how we are putting this thing together," Stefanski said. "You hit the ground running this year, as opposed to last year, where you are coming up with different words you want to call things."

At the same time, Stefanski said he's harping on the coaches about their personal development so they can continue to grow and ascend in the profession. As an example, Chief of Staff Callie Brownson will spend more time with RBs coach/run game coordinator Stump Mitchell so she can expand her knowledge and gain more experience.

"I want each one of them to get better," Stefanski said. "We are going to spend some time in this offseason as it relates to professional development to make sure that we are giving all of our coaches every resource we can to help them become better coaches because it makes us better for the Browns and also it obviously improves their job."

2. Checking in with Recovering Players

Stefanski's been able to see a few of his players in recent days as they go through their respective rehabilitation programs at the team facility.

Stefanski said he connected with DBs Grant Delpit and Greedy Williams, both of whom missed all of 2020 with their injuries, and OL Chris Hubbard, who underwent season-ending knee surgery following the Browns' Week 15 win against the Giants. 

WR Odell Beckham Jr. is working through his rehab elsewhere, but Stefanski said he continues to hear good things about the talented pass-catcher's progress.

"I would not lump them all together because they are all different injuries," he said, "but I know they are all progressing."

3. What's on the Schedule?

The Browns, like the rest of the NFL, are in wait-and-see mode as the league works through its offseason schedule. It's yet to be determined what the offseason program will look like as the country continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stefanski said he and his staff are prepared for whatever the league decides, especially after navigating a completely virtual offseason in 2020.

"That is something that we are used to, the unknowns," Stefanski said. "We will see when that comes out. I will take a look at the schedule and we will plan out what that looks like, but we will be ready to pivot with whatever the league and players agree upon. 

Stefanski said he wouldn't be disappointed if the team had to go through a repeat of last year's offseason, though he stressed the coaches would "love to have our hands on our guys and take them through drills." If permitted and possible, Stefanski said he would look to schedule a joint practice session with another team during training camp.

"We will see how it shakes out," Stefanski said. "We will be ready--whatever the rules are, I think that is what is most important to me and our coaches. We are just looking forward to finding out what those rules are and we will go from there."

4. What's Happening Now?

Stefanski and the coaching staff are splitting their days with half of their time dedicated to scheme evaluation and the other half watching tape of potential free agents and draft prospects. They've already knocked out a few interviews with draft prospects — something they'd typically do en masse at the Combine — and have many more lined up for the coming days and weeks.

Per the league's official schedule, teams like the Browns with a returning head coach can begin their offseason program as early as April 19.

"We are working really hard to find different ways for each of us to get better," Stefanski said. "That is really the charge of what we have been working on in the last few weeks and as we move forward in this offseason. We will see how it all shakes out and see what it looks like, but in the meantime, the focus is definitely we have to get better."

5. Coming Soon: Free Agency

As Stefanski wrapped up his press conference, the clock struck 4 p.m., meaning the Browns and the rest of the NFL were exactly 15 days away from the start of the new league year. 

A number of key players from the 2020 team are eligible for free agency, a group that includes WR Rashard Higgins and a handful of every-game starters from the defense, such as CB Terrance Mitchell, LB B.J. Goodson and DE Olivier Vernon. Stefanski declined to go into specifics about any of the players or the team's plan of attack but said he would "love to bring everybody back" while understanding that's likely not possible.

"We just realize that this is a business and sometimes that is not possible," Stefanski said. "I will tell you, we have had a lot of really good conversations with Andrew (Berry) and his staff and coaches and trying to outline a plan for this offseason.  

"Will there be new faces? Absolutely, there will be. How many? I don't know. That is the process that we are working through."

Check out the best 100 photos from this season by the Browns photo team