Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski was back in the Dino Lucarelli Media Center on Wednesday as players and coaches convened at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus for the second day of the offseason program.
The Browns are in Phase One of the program, which means activities are limited to individual or group instruction and drills, weight-lifting sessions and meetings. It's the first time Stefanski has been able to experience a non-virtual, in-person Phase One since he became a head coach, and he's cherishing the chance to meet new players, catch up with returning ones and take the first steps toward preparations for 2022 all in one place.
"It's fun that guys are back in the building, and this is really the first Phase One that I've been able to have with the guys," Stefanski said. "I think there's great value in them working out with their teammates here and developing relationships, which we all know was hard when we weren't together."
Here are a few key points Stefanski covered about the program and more in his media availability:
1. Watson 'diving into' learning new offense, forging relationships with teammates
For the first time since the Browns acquired him in a huge trade on March 18, three-time Pro Bowl QB Deshaun Watson has been able to work with Stefanski in-person.
So far, Stefanski has been impressed with how Watson has picked up the basics of the playbook and has quickly connected with his teammates — particularly the other two quarterbacks in the room in Jacoby Brissett and Joshua Dobbs.
"We really have three new quarterbacks in there, so there's a lot of learning that's going on and there's a lot of teaching," Stefanski said. "I think (Watson) is doing a nice job of diving into it. There's really no way to do it other than start at square one and go back over how we call things, formations, defensive terminology, etc. He's doing a nice job."
One of the big storylines that will likely carry all the way through offseason workouts and training camp is how much of the offense will change. Stefanski has used a wide-zone scheme predicated on play-action passes in the past two years, and while those core concepts could still hold with Watson as the QB, Stefanski wants to evaluate Watson's abilities in-person first before declaring any changes.
"We definitely have to adapt to our players, and certainly, the quarterback is so important in what we do," Stefanski said. "So we will make sure that we do what Deshaun does best and what the quarterback room does best. Those are the things that we are working through as we study and have studied Deshaun, Jacoby and Josh, understand what those guys do best and make sure that we can do that come September.
"To get there, though, there are a lot of meetings, there is a lot of install and there is a lot of practice that has to occur to ultimately tell you how much we will change."
2. Cooper making good first impression, too
Watson wasn't the only new big-ticket player to check into the offseason program, which is voluntary for all players.
WR Amari Cooper was present as well, an encouraging sign for the offense as the Browns look to ignite their passing game in 2022 by building a strong connection between Cooper and Watson. Stefanski dished out early praise to Cooper, an eight-year veteran, for taking every avenue to build rapport with his new teammates.
"Coop has been great," Stefanski said. "Very responsive to coaching. Amari, as you know or will know, he's not the loudest guy in the room, but he's very, very thoughtful, very, very intelligent and has been productive really every year he has been in this league. He's a good teammate. Just watching him work in the weight room and seeing him around his teammates, he's a guy who really works hard. He puts in the work. He's not somebody that is skirting around the work in any way."
Four-year veteran and two-time Pro Bowl CB Denzel Ward signed a contract extension Tuesday that will keep him in Cleveland through 2027.
3. Plenty of excitement in the building for Ward's future
One of the biggest names on campus to start the offseason program has been Denzel Ward, who signed a five-year contract extension to seal his future with the Browns through 2027.
In the four quick years since he was drafted by the team that played roughly 20 miles north of where he was raised in Macedonia, Ward has become a two-time Pro Bowler and one of the best defensive backs in franchise history. He's also constantly given back to Northeast Ohio through his "Make Them Know Your Name Foundation" and participated in various other charitable purposes in his career.
Teammates and coaches, Stefanski included, were pleased to see that Ward will only be growing his hometown roots further after his extension.
"It's outstanding for Denzel and for his family," Stefanski said. "He has earned it with the way he has played, the way he has conducted himself off the field and what he has done in our community. He speaks to the type of culture that the Haslam family has in this community. Denzel just embodies that. Excited to lock him up. He is a good football player at a really premium position."
4. New regeneration area should help Browns quell soft-tissue injuries
The Browns have taken measures to lessen injuries in 2022 and beyond with a brand new regeneration area that will be built next to the fieldhouse.
The area, which will replace the space previously used as the team weight room, will include several high-tech machines and recovery chambers that should accelerate all forms of recovery for players.
Stefanski said he was proud of how quickly the Browns moved to plan and build the space.
"I just think it was a great vision by people in this building and support from ownership to better think about that space," Stefanski said. "When I first got here, we would have never thought we would move the weight room full-time into the indoor facility, and we have done that, and I think we even have done it better the last couple of weeks as we reimagined that space. That was part of it is getting some smart people together and talking about how we can better utilize that space."
5. Conklin 'on schedule' in injury recovery
The only injury update from Wednesday was about OT Jack Conklin, who's been recovering from a season-ending knee injury he suffered in Week 12 at Baltimore.
Conklin was limited to just seven games last season due to the knee injury, a dislocated elbow and separate knee injury, but the All-Pro tackle is among the players participating in the offseason program.
"He is here, and he is working really hard," Stefanski said. 'I do not have a date for you, but he is on schedule with everything. He's doing a nice job."