Kevin Stefanski was able to deem the Browns' first practice of rookie minicamp a success Friday afternoon as soon as he stepped onto the grass.
For Stefanski and the rest of the Browns coaching staff, the wait was over — they could finally begin in-person coaching lessons with their newest arrivals and install the first layer of groundwork toward the tedious offseason climb toward Week 1.
Stefanski never had that opportunity last year for his first season as a head coach. But that made it easier for him to enjoy seeing uniformed players and coaches on the grass on a beautiful, sunny day in Berea.
"Seeing them out on the field with the coaches was all the color I needed," he said. "I get to look out my window and see these beautiful fields, and it looks a lot better when there's players and coaches out there."
The Browns hosted 18 total players for the first of three days of practice. Eight are members of the draft class, five are undrafted free agents, three are tryout players and two are players who are not rookies but are still considered first-year players.
Here were the biggest takeaways following the completion of the first official practice of the season:
1. Rookies cherish 1-on-1 coaching
Last season, rookies were never able to receive 1-on-1 opportunities to practice in-person with coaches due to COVID-19. The first true practice reps for the rookie class didn't come until training camp, and their first on-field evaluations from coaches were tightly wedged between reps for veteran players, who were also practicing for the first time all season.
Now, the processes are nearly back to normal. The rookies know they shouldn't take them for granted, and the coaches have an even deeper appreciation for every rookie rep they can use to teach new players.
"It's just good to see our coaches get their hands on and take them through," Stefanski said. "These are baby steps, but it's important to start there with these young players, so we had a lot of good technique work today."
The rookies understand the significance of it all, too. This is the only time they'll be able to receive extensive 1-on-1 practice time with their NFL coaches for their entire careers, and they'll be able to receive even more coaching instruction compared to previous normal years — the minicamp roster typically contains a minimum of 40 players and can be pushed as high as 70 in some years.
This year, the minicamp roster is barely half that size.
That provides a significantly higher amount of 1-on-1 time between coaches and rookies, and they're not letting it go to waste.
"When the vets get here, I'll at least know that I'm not a rookie who doesn't know anything," cornerback Greg Newsome II said. "It's good to get coaching after I make a mistake right away and that I can learn from it quickly. I know that next week, when the vets come back, I'll have to do it all on my own."
Check out exclusive photos of the first day of rookie minicamp
2. 2020 in rearview mirror
Don't expect Stefanski or the other Browns coaches to reflect much in 2021 on the successes of 2020.
The Browns certainly won't forget about the year, but that's because they hope to use it all as a framework for an even better season. The tape from 2020 has already been endlessly studied by coaches and will continue to be studied by new and returning players.
But the results of the year are now insignificant.
"I promise you that 32 clubs start right at the general info Page 1," Stefanski said. "You talk about the huddle, you talk about the personnel and you talk about the different hook drops and buzz drops on defense. You really always start back at the beginning. I just think it is an important way to teach. We do not want to skip any steps."
That job will be easy for the Browns coaches — nearly all of them were on-board for the ups and downs of 2020, and the nearly full-retention of the staff is one reason why the Browns are favored to be one of the top teams of the AFC yet again in 2020.
But Stefanski doesn't want the Browns to treat their offseason efforts any differently. Last season should only be used as a barometer for improvement, not a reason to relax.
"Part of being a pro is not getting bored," he said. "We will start back at square one. We have done that to a great extent with some of our meetings that we've had with the veterans to this point, but I just firmly believe that you have to go back and reinforce that foundation. Whether you feel like you've built a foundation or not, you definitely have to go back and reinforce it year in and year out."
3. Hype already mounting for Week 1 matchup
The biggest news of the week arrived Wednesday when the Browns learned of their 2021 schedule, and it didn't take long for them to identify one of their biggest games of the year: Week 1 vs. Kansas City.
The Chiefs, the reigning AFC Champions, will serve as arguably the toughest opponent of the year for the Browns, who lost at Arrowhead Stadium in the AFC Divisional Playoffs last year but will carry a vastly different defensive unit in 2021.
Many analysts have already dubbed the match as a potential AFC Conference Championship preview. No one on the Browns is ready to go that far, but they certainly feel the anticipation building for what figures to be one of the top games of the opening weekend.
"We know we have a lot of work to do before Week 1 rolls around," Stefanski said, "so we will make sure that we utilize every meeting we have and all of the time we have on the grass again to teach our systems — in some cases reteach the systems — and then get ready for the season."
Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, among other Chiefs offensive weapons, will provide a massive first test for the remodeled Browns defense. New starters are set to be rolled out at every position, and the unit should have a firm grasp on its total cohesion after competing with one of the top offensive cores in the league.
"It's a dream come true," second-round linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah said. "I don't think it's anything different in terms of any other opponent, but as everybody knows, the Chiefs are a really good team. We're just going to not talk much about it in terms of who they are but really talk about ourselves and focus on ourselves. That's what I am planning to do in terms of playing in that game. I'm just worried about myself first and foremost. The wins and losses start with yourself."
4. "JOK" sees great potential with Browns defense
When the Browns drafted Owusu-Koramoah at pick No. 52, Stefanski and defensive coordinator Joe Woods raced to a white board and began drawing his fit into the various schemes and formations of their playbook.
The excitement came as a result of Owusu-Koramoah's versatility. He excelled as both a tackler and coverage linebacker at Notre Dame, which gives him the potential to be an every-down player sooner rather than later in the NFL.
Now, after a couple weeks of digesting the playbook and his fit in Woods' schemes, Owusu-Koramoah can see where his coaches' excitement stemmed from.
"This defense flies around," he said. "It's based on a principle of 'No bark, all bite.' It's based on the principle of attacking the ball. It's based on principles of really relying on your brothers. That is the kind of defense that I have always played in terms of Notre Dame and things like that. As we saw, the Notre Dame defense was successful, and going into this defense, there are a lot of disguises and a lot of things that coach is doing.
"I think me and my versatility are used perfectly within the defense in terms of its principals and what he is looking for."
Owusu-Koramoah has already been told that he'll receive initial reps as the WILL (weakside) linebacker, a position typically reserved for the fastest player of the linebacker group. The Browns spoke highly of his speed on the night he was drafted, so the position assignment isn't any surprise.
"That is kind of where I am working at right now on third down and things like that," Owusu-Koramoah said "That will add more to it, but for right now, that is what I am studying."
5. Injury update
The Browns will be without one of their 18 minicamp players this weekend.
Linebacker Tony Fields II, a fifth-round draft pick, did not practice Friday because of a foot injury. Stefanski said he expects Fields to be out for a few weeks and isn't worried about him missing extensive time.
"There's nothing concerning long-term, but that's where Tony was," he said.