Bill Callahan has always known that he was working behind the clock with Jedrick Wills Jr.
Callahan, who's coached football for over 40 years and is in his first season as an offensive line coach with the Browns, was given a tall task in helping Wills convert from right tackle to left. The transition for Wills, the Browns' 2020 first-round pick from Alabama, was one of the biggest storylines of training camp and would've been a difficult, but accomplishable challenge even under a normal offseason.
Wills, however, didn't see Callahan in person and on a football field until the beginning of August due to the offseason restrictions from COVID-19. He didn't take team reps until a couple of weeks later. Since he finally saw Callahan in person, Wills has had a plenty to digest and learn on the field.
"I think what our goal has been is to bring him up to speed as fast as we can," Callahan said. "I think rookies across the league are behind the curve. He has obviously lost a share and he has won a share of his reps, but that experience of getting out against quality and premier pass rushers is invaluable."
Callahan is one of the most well-respected offensive line coaches in football. His resume is full of successful projects in transitioning players from one position to another, and it includes Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Brandon Scherff — all Pro Bowl players.
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Those transitions were successful, but they didn't happen after just a couple weeks of on-field practice against NFL-sized defenders. That's how much time Wills has had so far to acclimate, and Callahan said the results have been what he expected given the unusual offseason.
Wills hasn't won every rep, and that's OK. Patience is necessary, and Callahan knows that best.
"We have really inundated him with techniques and walkthroughs," he said. "We have gone through several measures in the classroom showing him different players doing the techniques that we are asking of him. I think the progress has been positive, but you just do not know until you go up against live competition."
The live reps began two weeks ago for Wills.
His primary opponents?
But Callahan has also exposed Wills to just about every defensive end on Cleveland's roster. Each DE has a variety of traits — whether it be speed, power or both — that can test a tackle's skills, and Callahan wants to ensure Wills has faced all varieties of strengths he'll see against a defender each week.
"We are trying to give Jedrick as many different looks as possible, whether it is a speed rusher, a power rusher or a combination-type player," Callahan said. "We are just trying to get as many different people on him to give him that exposure of the speed, quickness and power that he is going to face."
The competition has certainly been stiff, but it's all for the betterment of Wills. He's improving, and coach Kevin Stefanski delivered a firm response Saturday when asked whether Wills is officially entrenched to start Week 1.
So it'll be up to Callahan to build Wills into his best form. That's been one of his top priorities since training camp began, and even though time might not have been on his side, he's committed to making it work.
"Every day, it's a learning experience for him," Callahan said, "and we are trying to bring him up to speed as fast as we can."