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5 takeaways from Kevin Stefanski at NFL Annual Meetings

Stefanski discussed what’s ahead for Deshaun Watson, Elijah Moore, other free-agent moves and more in his first media availability since free agency began


PHOENIX — Head coach Kevin Stefanski met with reporters Monday inside the Arizona Biltmore for the first time since free agency began, offering some insight on what's next for the Browns after their busy start to the new league year.

Here are five takeaways from Stefanski's conversation:

1. Stefanski knows Watson will be 'more comfortable'

There's no doubt in Stefanski's mind that Deshaun Watson will be a better QB to start 2023 than he was in his first six games last season.

The reasons why are obvious — the Browns will have a normal offseason and training camp, one that won't be spent planning around a QB change in the middle of the season. Watson also has already built some chemistry with receivers, although that will need to be refined over the course of offseason practices and training camp.

Stefanski also has a better grasp of what works for Waston, and Waston has a better understanding of what plays from Stefanski fit him best. That should create a smoother environment for offseason practices as the Browns test what plays will work best in actual games.

"I would say he's going to be way more comfortable," Stefanski said. "It (was) a new offense, it (was) a new verbiage, those types of things. Year 2 now for him, he'll be more comfortable. I think the big piece is getting comfortable with your teammates. There's no substitute for reps. There's no substitute for practice reps or game reps, so I think all those are valuable."

Stefanski highlighted sharp throws Watson made in wins against the Ravens in Week 15 and Commanders in Week 17 as evidence of the talent Watson can bring every game. Yes, there was always going to be rust for him to knock off after missing nearly two season's worth of games, but Stefanski has always been confident that Watson would re-discover his full array of talents, and he feels particularly positive about that with a full offseason ahead.

"I think confidence for me comes from seeing him, and I've seen him do it," Stefanski said.

"I saw him do it in those games last season. I know it wasn't perfect. I certainly wasn't perfect. We weren't perfect around him, and, as we all know, it's not a one man show. It's a team game, and we didn't have as much team success as we would've liked late in the season there. But I've seen it from Deshaun in games, I've seen it from practice, I've seen it in his career."

2. Still TBD on Watson's preseason workload

The Browns will have four preseason games — one more than the standard three — to assess their roster this season due to the additional Hall of Fame Game, which will be played on Aug. 3 against the Jets in Canton.

The biggest storyline, perhaps, of the whole preseason will be how many snaps the Browns decide to give Watson, who would obviously benefit from more preseason action after having played just six regular season games in the last three years.

As of this week, the plan still hasn't been set but is top-of-mind for Stefanski's coaching staff.

"We're talking about it as we speak," he said. "I think you're always trying to do what's right for your team in that particular moment, so we haven't made any final decisions. You want to see where you are throughout the season. We'll have a general plan as we arrive for training camp this year."

3. Browns will use Moore in variety of ways

The types of plays the Browns will be able to run offensively should change with the speed newly acquired Elijah Moore brings at receiver, which is why Stefanski didn't want to pin Moore as a player who will play in any one particular receiver position.

Moore has mostly been a slot weapon over his pro and college career, particularly at Ole Miss, where he became one of the top receivers in the 2021 draft class and routinely cut through defenses by working through the middle of the field. The Jets, however, had mostly split his duties as a slot and outside receiver.

Moore will likely still receive plenty of slot opportunities with the Browns, but Stefanski won't call him a "slot receiver."

"I don't think he's just a slot," Stefanski said. "I know a lot of players that are his size kind of get, 'OK, he must be a slot.' He's won plenty on the outside as well. He's the type of player you would just want to get the ball in his hands, and I think if you go back to his college tape, there's a ton of down-the-field throws.

"There's opportunities to hand it to him, throw it to him over the middle, throw it to him outside. I just think there's no shortage of ways that you want to get him the football."

4. Dobbs, Walker were important re-signings

The Browns brought back two of the most trusted players in the locker room last season in QB Joshua Dobbs and LB Anthony Walker, who reportedly agreed to terms to re-sign with the team.

Dobbs signed with the Browns again for 2023 after spending 11 games in Cleveland last season. He was waived last year after Watson returned to the roster and spent time both on the Lions' practice squad and with the Titans, where he started his first two career games.

The Browns had always appreciated Dobbs' insight and leadership, and his familiarity with the system made him a good fit to bring back in 2023.

"I think the world of Josh Dobbs, the person, the player," Stefanski said. "He got an opportunity to play some meaningful football games last season, which I think was good for him. But Dobbs, he's a favorite of our building. I mean he's beloved in that building. I think everybody saw what he can do in our system, or just in game settings. He's a playmaker, so we're really thrilled that he's back. And then the person, just the fit in the room between Deshaun, Josh, Kellen (Mond), I mean these are really solid people that we're excited about."

Walker, meanwhile, will have a chance to again be a top linebacker one season after he played just three games due to a season-ending quad injury. The absence of Walker's tackling abilities — he led the Browns in tackles in 2021 — was evident while he was out, but the Browns also missed the leadership he brings on the field, too, serving as a green-dot player to relay plays to teammates and helping position the whole unit before each play.

"I love the guy," Stefanski said. "Love everything about him. Love what he brings to our team. He was playing really good football before he was injured last season, unfortunately, but he's a good football player. He's awesome in the locker room. He's a son of a coach. When he's done playing 10 years from now, I'm going to try to convince him to coach. He's just rock solid."

5. Changes to OTA schedule

With the addition of the Hall of Fame game to the preseason schedule, the Browns will be able to begin training camp one week earlier in July, and they're pivoting their organized team activities schedule as a result.

Stefanski said the Browns will end their OTAs a week earlier, which would conclude the offseason camp the week of June 5 instead of June 12. The adjustment ensures the Browns will still have five weeks between the end of the offseason program and training camp, giving players one final opportunity to rest and recharge before the grind begins.

"I think it still gives them the same amount of time off in the summer, which is a sacred time for everybody," he said. "I think we'll be ready to work come July."