Joe Woods confident Browns defense will 'cause problems' for opponents

As Joe Woods spoke with local reporters on a video call Thursday morning, the window behind his desk served as a display for his experience and pedigree as an NFL coach.

A red 49ers flag draped from the left corner of the window. The bottom of the flag contained the logo of Super Bowl LIV, where Woods coached his final game with San Francisco last season. 

The middle of the window was covered with an orange Denver Broncos flag. The Super Bowl 50 logo was at the top of it, and the sun peeked through the flag and casted a glimmer through the picture of the Lombardi Trophy, which he won with the Broncos in 2016.

The newest addition to his window was on the right. It's an orange Browns flag, and it's the only flag Woods hasn't folded over in some way to allow some sunlight into his room.

Woods hopes to eventually decorate his office, which also contains commemorative footballs, plaques and other collectibles, with memorabilia from achievements he wants to gather with the Browns. He was hired by coach Kevin Stefanski in February to pilot a defense that already has a torrent of talent — and room to grow.

"I feel like I have been on some good defensive staffs the last couple years," Woods said. "What I am really putting together is a combination of what I feel like has been the top defenses of the last 10 years. I feel like it's going to be a really good defensive package where the guys can play fast, but I think it will cause some problems for offenses."

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Woods took his first leap into NFL coaching with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2004 and has coached with the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders and, of course, the Broncos and 49ers. Working mainly as a defensive backs coach, Woods has led many of the top secondaries of the last decade, and his accolades made him ripe for a defensive coordinator position in 2020.

The Browns were quick to scoop up Woods after his second trip to the Super Bowl. He was hired five days later, and he immediately went to work on implementing his personal critiques into his new defense.

"With the guys that we have on our defense right now," Woods said, "I feel like we can really do some things in the run game and in the pass game with the guys that we currently have."

What will that look like? Woods has already established that the Browns will start with a 4-3 scheme, but he said Thursday that he envisions the defense eventually transitioning into a dime system that utilizes six defensive backs, one or two linebackers and offers some more diverse looks and packages. 

Woods will take his time with that, though. For now, he's doing his best to teach the normal defensive fundamentals that he'd be teaching on the practice fields in Berea if it weren't for the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced Woods and all other NFL coaches to complete the bulk of offseason work virtually.

Players can't practice against each other or complete workouts at team facilities. For a defense, such guidelines might create concerns over a lack of tackling practice, but NFL offseason training activities prohibit tackling in all workouts, so it's not a concern for Woods.

"The way the NFL has trended over the last decade or so, you really do not do things physically on the field in terms of tackling guys and bringing them to the ground," Woods said. "So a lot of drill work is individual, and a lot of the group work is in terms of teaching that aspect of it."

The different environment has forced Woods and his coaches to improvise. He feels as though his staff needs to be even more detailed in their lessons to make a stronger conveyance through their videos. Players have picked up on it, too, and are asking more questions than normal in meetings.

Woods has put players to the test, literally, with on-the-spot quizzes about reads and plays to survey how well the information has been absorbed, even though players are away from their normal meeting rooms. He's made players answer coaching questions through the chat feature in Zoom calls so he can ensure each player will deliver their own individual response.

"We have gone through great lengths to try to do as much as we can to really find out what they are learning," Woods said. "We have had really good conversations as a defensive staff to make sure that the exact wording is right, the picture is right and the lines are right. Everything (the players) are getting is virtual, so they're asking a lot of good questions."

It's a first-time experience for everyone, but the hefty resume from Woods carries even more significance as the Browns attempt to navigate their way through offseason training and virtually lay the foundation for an improved 2020.

Woods would certainly rather be conducting his work in a meeting room with his new players, but — as his office memorabilia might suggest — he's capable of completing the work from home, too.

"All the meetings we have had with the players, I think we are getting a lot out of it," he said. "The physical part of it, that is the stuff we can't get. We just have to wait until we get on the field."

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