INDIANAPOLIS — The Browns' media sessions continued Wednesday with head coach Kevin Stefanski taking the podium for the first time since the end of the 2022 season.
Here are five top takeaways:
1. Addressing the coaching changes
The Browns on Monday finalized their 2023 coaching staff with six people receiving new roles and two new coaches hired to the team.
It's the most changes that have been made to Stefanski's staff in an offseason since he became the coach in 2020, and he expressed confidence in the new hires — safeties coach Ephraim Banda and senior offensive assistant Bill Musgrave — and the six other staff members who were assigned to new roles to help the team improve.
"As you know, we had continuity there for a bunch of years, and that can be good, and I think sometimes change can be good," Stefanski said. "I think for me and for us, this process of talking to a bunch of coaches and interviewing a lot of coaches, you learn a lot about the candidate; you also learn about different ways of doing things. I think there is certainly a different perspective that I gain from some of the people we were able to talk to and obviously the people we were able to hire.
"I think it really pushes you to rethink certain things of what we are doing and make sure that we are trying to do the best thing for the team."
Head Coach Kevin Stefanski speaks to the media during his press conference at the 2023 NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Indiana on March 1, 2023.
2. Hall of Fame Game selection is an 'unbelievable honor'
The Browns will begin their season in Canton in August after the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced Tuesday that the Browns will play the Jets in the 2023 Hall of Fame Game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
The selection came three weeks after Joe Thomas was named a first-ballot Hall of Famer in the 2023 class. The game will take place on Aug. 3, two days before Thomas' official induction ceremony.
"We are very fortunate to be able to play in that game," Stefanski said. "I think it's an unbelievable honor to do so. It gives us an opportunity to celebrate Joe's career. That part, we are excited about. Heading down there to Canton. I have done it before when I was with the Vikings."
The extra preseason game will give the Browns four total games before the regular season begins. It also means the Browns will be able to start training camp a week earlier in July, which Stefanski said the Browns will do. They will also end their offseason program a week earlier in June.
3. Importance of AVP's relationship with Watson
One notable part of Stefanski's coaching changes was the decision to not hire a new quarterbacks coach after Drew Petzing, who served in the role in 2022, was hired to join new Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon's staff as the offensive coordinator.
Stefanski, whose staff also didn't have a designated QB coach in 2020 and 2021, clarified that offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will still carry a heavy role in coaching QB Deshaun Watson. So will Ashton Grant, a former Browns Bill Willis Diversity Coaching Fellow who moved to a coaching role as an offensive assistant/QBs after he was an offensive quality control coach last year.
"The first thing I will tell you is Alex Van Pelt is one of the best teammates I have ever been around," Stefanski said. "Just felt like with Drew leaving to go to Arizona, this was an opportunity for AVP to go back in there. I say that because AVP and I are in every quarterback meeting. AVP took a step back so that Drew could have that voice in there and did a great job. AVP is ready for whatever I feel like and we feel like is best for the team. He is ready to do that."
Stefanski also said the decision was made because of the rapport Van Pelt and Watson built in Watson's first season with the team.
"AVP is a former quarterback and has done it," Stefanski said. "Has coached a bunch of guys and coached a lot of good players, so I think again lends an instant credibility with AVP when you're talking about the quarterback position. We spend a lot of time together. We spend time in that meeting room. We spend time on the field. During games, AVP is the one sitting on that bench going over the pictures. There is a built-in relationship there. There is respect there. AVP is a coach who can push this player, along with myself and the rest of our staff, but I just think there is a built-in relationship there."
4. Stefanski to remain offensive play-caller
Stefanski also confirmed Wednesday that he will continue to hold offensive play-calling duties, a role he's held in every season of his head coaching tenure.
"I don't think it is important to me — I think it's important to do what is right for the team," he said. "I feel like that is the right thing to do for the team."
Stefanski also said he's been in constant communication with Watson throughout the offseason as the duo looks to build off Watson's debut season. The Browns were 3-3 in games Watson started following his 11-game suspension, and the core focus of Stefanski's offseason in regard to the offense has been finding ways to maximize Watson's comfort and better mold the offense to his strengths.
"We can talk to each other, but just not about football," he said. "We're still talking. I think just getting on the same page on everything — how we meet and how we structure practice, making sure he is comfortable with different things. You talk about everything under the sun with players in an exit meeting and certainly try to do the same with Deshaun. I know we are seeing the game very similarly. I think he's very excited about what we're going to be doing offensively and what we're going to be doing as a team. I think he's excited to go play some football in the spring and summer."
5. Ford 'capable' of earning backup RB role
After Executive Vice President and GM Andrew Berry said Tuesday that he was intrigued by RB Jerome Ford’s potential ability to contribute in the pass game, Stefanski also expressed belief that Ford will be able to do more with the offense in his second season.
Ford, a 2022 fifth-round pick, only took eight carries for 12 yards his rookie year but showed an ability to escape tacklers as a kick returner, which the Browns gave to him for most of the season.
"I was very encouraged with Jerome," Stefanski said. "He didn't have a ton of opportunities, but encouraged by the opportunities he had. As a kick returner, you saw his natural ability. You saw speed and you saw vision, and that was something he had never done. You're seeing a player who has an upside. Ultimately, it's going to be up to him to earn that role, but I do think he's capable."