Press Conference

Austin Hooper: 'I'm ready to play ball'

On if he feels safe at the Browns facility:

"Yeah, all you can do is the best with the situation you are given. Obviously, this is a global pandemic. Does any building have it down to 100 percent perfect? I do not know, but I feel very confident in (Head) Coach (Kevin) Stefanski and (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager) Mr. (Andrew) Berry and all the things they have in place. The Haslams have done a great job with the facility. According to guys who have been there, it is completely different, revamped and a more spacious, more space-oriented building and space-oriented structure now. I feel very, very confident with all of the different safety measures that have been put in place. For example, I got tested again. I had my COVID-19 test again this morning at 8:30 a.m., and just to get from one part of the building the other, I had to get my temperature checked multiple times. There are a lot of safety measures in place, and it is making me feel confident that we can we can do this at a safe and high level."

On if it hits home when learning players decided to opt out for various reasons:

"Yeah, at the end of the day, this is a game, and, life and family at least in my book go above sports. You have to do what you feel is right. I love ball, I am ready to go and luckily, I am not in a situation where I have a newborn who is sick or this, that or the third where you [have to consider] is football more important than possibly costing your family member their life? Luckily, I am not in that situation where I have to make that incredibly difficult decision so I completely respect those guys and what they are going through, but I am ready to play ball."

On if the bigger concern is to complete the season during a pandemic or the team being able to perform its best among the challenges:

"I think all of us in the building are just trying to be the best versions of ourselves as possible. Obviously, with the guidelines that are dictating upon how we can act, we have to do it a little differently, but the goal still remains the same. The goal remains the same."

On if the Browns can be at their peak in September following a virtual offseason, a modified training camp and no preseason games:

"That is a tough one. I do not really know how you want me to go with this one, but having less football makes it tough. At the end of the day, this is something that is not just us but everyone across the league has to do. In a crazy, messed up way, we are all on the same scale. Ideally, would you like to play football? The only way to get better at football is by playing more football, and without as much, especially with a new system, could there possibly be some growing pains? Who knows? The way that Coach Stefanski and the offensive staff, speaking on my side of the ball, have done such a great job of articulating the new offense and teaching it to us, being a new guy in this offense, I feel pretty comfortable already. I am just really excited to get on the grass and get after it when we are able to do so safely."

On if he knew C JC Tretter prior to coming to Cleveland:


On if he has had much communication with Tretter, particularly given Tretter's role as NFLPA President:

"I have still yet to meet a lot of my teammates to be honest with you because we are broken up into pods, as I am sure you are well aware. We are broken up in pods so I really do not see a lot of guys except in passing, say hello, stay six feet away and just kind of say something quick in passing. If you are asking if I had like a deeper conversation with the man, not yet."

Check out photos of the team working out Tuesday

On if he kept in close touch with Tretter about COVID-19 discussions between the NFL and NFLPA during the offseason:

"No, to be honest. This might sound a little pessimistic, but I really do not have any say in what happens so I kind of just waited until the decisions are finalized and what is my new normal going forward. Not saying my way is right, but that is the way I handled it."

On developing chemistry and a friendship with QB Baker Mayfield, including his time with Mayfield in Austin, Texas:

"It is good. You just touched on it, I was staying at Baker's house for like two or three weeks so we had a good time when we were practicing and when we were not practicing. I definitely think that was kind of the initial spark that really helped our chemistry. In terms of this interesting situation we have now, we are still able to be around each other in the building and still get reps. Are they full speed? No, but the ability to be around each other and being able to work with each other, I feel like the more time you put in with each other, just the better that relationship will grow."

On if he started to build chemistry and timing with Mayfield when they were in Austin:

"For sure. We already banked a couple hundred reps so that is huge. Especially in a super-condensed offseason and a super-condensed training camp format, banking those few hundred reps in my opinion has really helped us already."

On how he connected with Mayfield in the offseason to visit him in Austin, given he previously said he reached out to Mayfield right after he signed with the Browns:

"I was in contact with Baker before I signed, too. I don't know if I am getting anybody in trouble or anything, but at the end of the day, that is just how it works between players, if I am being honest. You just want to get a feel for the person you are going to work with for years. I got in contact with him early on in the process so when I did sign, I already had an idea of where am I going, who is my quarterback and what is he all about. I told him that I like to work and I like to do stuff in the offseason. He was more than ready and willing to do that. Right as soon as I signed, a couple weeks later, I went out to Texas and was there for a week and a half or two weeks and then took a month off. At that time, we all thought we were about to roll back in for OTAs and what have you. Obviously, things have changed since then. About a month after I first came out there, I stayed another week and a half out there. Banked a few hundred reps with him, had a good time with him on and off the field and just kind of got a feel for him, his personality, his wife, his family and his friends and just kind of really see Baker the person. It was a good time."

On his first impressions of Mayfield:

"Baker, obviously talented, a strong arm. He has a real competitive fire. Those are the two deals that really made me want to sign here were Baker and just his style of quarterback – him being aggressive, has that swag with him, which I do want. I want to play for a quarterback who has that to them a little bit, and obviously, the arm talent is there. It was a really easy decision for me."

On how he can help Mayfield on the field:

"Run routes, get open and catch the ball. I am sure that will help him out."

On his relationship with TE David Njoku:

"David and I have always been cool. That is why I don't want you guys to get misconstrued in any way, shape or form because when you let the media and just leave you guys to your own devices, you guys are great fiction writers sometimes (laughter). David and I have always had a good relationship. A super nice, super sweet dude. Genuinely a good human being. He changed agents, and the agent wanted him to go somewhere else. I get it. It is a business at the end of the day. You have to do right by your family. He switched agents to an agent who, if you take a look at someone's track record, that is something he has always done. Going into his contract year, he swapped agents, and of course, that is going happen. At the end of the day, that is no indictment on him and his character or that me and him aren't cool. At the end of the day, it is a business. I get it. David and my relationship is still good – still a good dude and really looking forward to working with him. I wouldn't put it on, 'Oh, David didn't want to be here and then now he does.' The beauty of COVID has just shown, especially the media, there is a human-being component to this, too. It is not just nameless, faceless players out there. There is a lot more that goes into it. There is no ill will on my end, Again, I get it. It is a business. You have to do right by yours. Switched to a new agent, and historically, that is what that agent likes to do. Me and him are cool. I am looking forward to working with him."

On what is most critical over the next few weeks to ensure the offense is ready for the season:

"I would say continuity. New system, new players and a lot of new faces around, you have to get used to playing next to people. You have to get used to seeing how they move, what they like to do, what their best skillset is and how they can be used to the best of their ability and their fullest potential. I think that will be the biggest thing is just that continuity. That can only be done through reps. Meetings are great and walkthroughs are great, but you have to play football to really get that feel by playing next to each other."

On building camaraderie with teammates while social distancing:

"This is the new normal, right? You have to abide by the rules because first and foremost, we want there to be a season, and the only way we can do that is by being socially distant and by self-adhering to the rules. Normally, as you know, we would all go to a restaurant together, grab some pops together and just do guy stuff to just build bonds. Obviously, with everything that is going on, the format is different. You are asking a really good question. I just don't know how we can do that other than just spend more time in the building, but right now, only certain people can be in the building and certain people can't. That is a good question. I don't really have an answer for you."

On his role in the TE room as an experienced veteran:

"My style, I have never really been a rah-rah guy at all. I just kind of like to lead by example, and if people have questions, I will answer them. I am an open book. I don't try to hoard information. I don't like doing the whole (Raiders TE) Jason Witten deal where it is me versus everyone else in the tight end room. I think it is more like we are all in this together. (TEs) David (Njoku), Harrison (Bryant), Stephen (Carlson), Pharaoh (Brown), Nate (Wieting), we are all in this together. I look at it as just like a big family in our room. We all have one common goal, and that is to win our reps. However someone does it a certain way, that resonates with someone else's learning process better. I think just like any other workplace, it is better when it is collaborative and not combative. That is what I try to bring to the room and let everybody know that yeah, I am one of the older guys in this room, but don't feel like I am not approachable. I am and open book. I want to see people do well."

On the similarities and differences to 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan's offensive system, given he played with Shanahan in Atlanta:

"Until I am around Stefanski long enough to feel his play calling style, I can't really answer the second

part of that question [about differences]. Schematically, it is very similar – a lot of outside zone, play-action keepers, the three to five step concepts are similar and the play-action shots that come off of it are very similar. For me, it is refreshing because in my four seasons at Atlanta, I had three different coordinators and had to learn three different offenses. It is cool to be back in something that I already know."

On if he considered opting out and if he is definitely going to play this season:

"I think everyone should at least think about it. Obviously, our goal was to give guys options and the guys make the best decisions for them and their families. I am playing this year. I have made my decision, but I think everybody should take the time to think it through and make sure they are making the best decisions for themselves."

On if he was OK with final deadline for players top opt out:

"Yeah. Originally, we wanted to make sure guys had time to make an educated decision. That is why in the original document we wanted to make sure we carved out about a week. If the document would have went through the editing process quickly, it would have been about seven to nine days for guys to make a decision. In the end because it took so long to come to an agreement on language, guys are going to end up with 13 days to make the decision. I think that is plenty of time."

On his immediate COVID-19concerns over the next couple of weeks:

"I think guys can't get lax. Everybody in the building can't relax on the protocols or relax on making the right decisions at the facility and away from the facility. I think everybody has realized that it is different. The facility is different. What you have to do at the facility is different. Just making sure guys continue to buy in and understand that this is for the best. I think the next biggest thing, watching what is going on with baseball, would be talking about continuing daily testing, not having a lag time in testing and making sure guys continue to be tested regularly, we get those results back and make sure there are not any sick people getting into the building."

On if players are having conversations about social behavior when outside of the facility:

"Yeah, again, those conversations are going to have to happen all throughout the year. It is going to be a constant reminder. I know a lot of guys talk about young guys making the right decisions, but we all have our routines that we have done, and that is old guys, too, of going places and doing certain things on the days off. Everybody needs to be really cognizant of making the right decisions."

On managing surprise or false-positive COVID-19 test results:

"I am not going to speak about individual cases just for their own privacy. Just in general, I think the protocols are working. That is why we have the testing protocols in place to make sure we find out what is going on and we have the consecutive tests to make sure we know what is a positive test and what is a false-positive test. They are working thus far. That is why I would go back to say that is the importance of continued daily testing. It is the best way to figure out what is going on and making sure we have the right decisions being made."

On if protocols need to be adjusted after being back in the facility:

"No, I think the protocols are working already. Now, the protocols are not set in stone. Those will continue to evolve as the information on the virus evolves and as the CDC guidelines evolves, but nothing has happened where I think we need to make a change of how we are doing it right now."

On what the Browns have done to go 'above and beyond' the required protocols to make sure everyone feels safe:

"The Browns have done a really great job. Walking through the facility, it is like a new building. The weight room is no longer where it originally was. The weight room has turned into a second locker room for us. That way we have the ability to spread out and make sure that we can continue social distancing, even in the locker room. The weight room is now out in the field house. The upstairs where the staff was, new walls have been put up. It has been completely rebuilt to add additional meeting rooms to allow social distancing in meetings. They have done everything you could possibly think of. Walking through there, there is nothing I can look at and say, 'Well, maybe they could have done this.' They have done a great job."

On if players are coming to a better understanding of the power of their platform, referring to many NFL player tweets about COVID-19 on one day this past offseason, and if his goal as NFLA President is to help players understand the influence of their voice:

"Yeah, I think guys are starting to understand that, both for football issues as well as societal issues. They have this platform, and they can use that to create change. I thought it was really a great thing to see so many kind of faces of the NFL step forward and take a stand for their teammates, for their teammates' families and for their families and demand the safety that they want, and it led to immediate concessions. That is the power the players have. It was really great to see, and I was excited to watch that."

On how the idea came together for players to collectively voice their opinion regarding COVID-19 protocols on social media during the offseason:

"That was player driven. Throughout this entire process, we were really engaged with the players. Obviously, we talked to the executive committee, the board of player reps and then we were league-wide calls where anybody could get on, ask questions and make sure they were informed. Everybody was extremely passionate about this issue because it involves player safety, the safety of themselves and the safety of their families. Guys wanted to make sure if they were going to go back to an environment that it would be as safe as an environment as possible. The guys got together and said they still feel like there is more they need to feel comfortable, and they organized making sure that people heard their voice."

On if he wrestled with the decision to play this season, given he and his wife are expecting a child:

"I definitely consulted medical experts. I am staying at the hotel right now. Just want to make sure everything is running properly and there are no outbreaks. I will stay here until I feel comfortable going back to my house. That is definitely part of it. Again, that is why the first question about do you consider opting out, I think everybody has their own unique circumstances, needs to kind of sort through the information and gather more information and then just make the best decision on what they feel most comfortable with."

On what is it like being NFLPA President and getting ready for the season and as NFLPA President, if he feels responsibility to make sure players do what is needed off the field:

"To the first one, I think where I am at in my career, I have reached a point where I have a pretty good grasp of what it takes to get ready. I think I know what I need to do throughout the week and throughout the offseason to prepare, have my body ready and have my mind ready to play so the added responsibilities do not cause me too much concern. The second question was about the players. I think my main goal is protecting the players. I think when you take on this job, that is your responsibility is you are protecting all the players within the league. When you take on the job as your player rep for your team, your job is to protect all the guys in your locker room. When you take on the presidency, your job is to protect the players in all locker rooms. That is being there, making sure we put in the right protocols to keep them safe and monitoring to make sure everything is going right. Everybody involved in this situation has to make the right decisions. I know it is always going to be talked about – are the players making the right decisions? The coaches have to make the right decisions. The staff has to make the right decisions. The executives have to make the right decisions. Everybody who walks in that building, if they make wrong decisions outside of the facility, it impacts the people in that building and their families who they go home to. Everybody involved has to make the right decisions."

On how much knowing how other players may have responded if the NFLPA President opted out of the season weighed on his decision:

"I do not think I look at it like that. I think each person has to make their own individual decision. Each person's scenario in life is different. We just wanted to provide them options to make that right decision and provide avenues to find what is best for them.

On if he has any regrets about becoming NFLPA President, given the current unexpected circumstances:

"I definitely do not regret running for president. I have really enjoyed the work. It is something I have been passionate about for a long time. It is something I went to school for so it is something I have always been interested in. Obviously, it has been a busy offseason, but it has been a really great time kind of fighting for the players and trying to provide them as best of a workplace as possible."

On if there are lessons to be learned from recent developments in MLB, especially given the league doesn't play in an isolated bubble:

"We are in pretty constant contact with the other sports leagues and just trying to understand what each group is going through. I think the main thing I will harp on again is the idea of continuing doing daily testing. I think the lag time of testing was a big effect on what is going on with baseball. Now, our sport is different with just the amount of traveling they do and the amount of kind of moving the bubble and going from hotel to hotel is difficult, where we will be in our location most of the time. That was the goal of moving guys away from having a training camp in one place and then coming back to their original place midway through training camp or doing joint practices or preseason games is you do not want to move that bubble more than you have to. I think the main one, watching what is going on with baseball, is trying to continue daily testing and continue to have that as an asset for us and not having a lag time testing which causes these outbreaks because when someone is sick and shedding virus in the building, it sweeps through that place quickly. It is extremely contagious, and you want to make sure that the people in the building are not sick."

On if he is trying to continue daily testing as opposed to going to every other day after 14 days:

"Yeah, so the first two weeks will be daily and then after that it goes to every other day. There is kind of an added rule there that it will be measured on positivity rate. There are some teams based off the positivity rate that they already have that we already know that they will continue on a team-by-team basis with individual testing for another two weeks at least, until we adjust the positivity rates. I think throughout this, there are going to be constant needs to evolve and change and make decisions that are best to keep the game moving forward. We will continue to learn from our errors and other leagues' errors, and I think that is something we definitely need to look at and definitely need to push for is the continuation of everyday testing."

On penalties for 'risky behavior' and violations outside of the building listed in the NFL-NFLPA agreement:

"There is a law aspect to it, a burden of proof and everything like that. I think it just speaks to the importance of guys do not want to get sick and guys do not want their families getting sick. That is also what the players want, and they want to avoid those risks. You have to accept what other people are doing outside of the facility because that becomes your risk, as well. I think guys were OK with having rules around keeping them out of high-risk environments because guys do not want to get sick and guys do not want their families to get sick."

On Browns OL and DL members who have opted out of the season and if he is working with OL and DL players in particular to discuss their potential concerns about playing this season:

"I am always open, and I feel like I am fairly approachable about talking through anything guys want to talk through. More importantly, I can get them in touch with the people they need to from a medical perspective better than I can speak to it. If anybody – the Browns or any team – feels they are having a tough time making a decision or feels they need another perspective, I think they know they are always free to reach out to me and I can put them in touch with other people who can give them a varied style of medical opinions of what they are going through. Again, this was about allowing guys to make a choice and make a choice of what is best for them and their families. It is not an easy decision either way, and I am glad it seems like guys are really taking it to heart, sitting back, weighing their options and making whatever decision is best for them. I am happy about that."

On his confidence in the Browns OL after players opted out of the season:

"We will be fine."

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