Press Conference

Kevin Stefanski: 'This team is always evolving'

Head Coach Kevin Stefanski:

On how valuable G Joel Bitonio is to the team: 

"He is extremely valuable to what we do. Off the field, he is a leader of this football team. He does a great job. His teammates respect him. He is all about ball. It did not take long for me to turn the tape on and kind of know the type of player I was getting in Joel, but just the person, he is a class act all the way." 

On if any other Browns players will return to practice today, in addition to Bitonio: 

"(CB) Denzel (Ward) will be limited today. I think that is it." 

On if he is confident Bitonio will be able to play through his injury on Sunday: 

"Honestly, with injuries you just never know. The best thing to do is to have the player get out there and for his prescribed reps, whatever they may be, and then work with the medical staff to see where it goes. It is hard for me to speculate on a lot of these injuries." 

On RB Kareem Hunt's status for Sunday: 

"I would say we will know more each and every day. He will not be out there at practice today, but we will know more as the week go on." 

On if the Browns have been preparing for more crowd noise with 20,000 fans expected to be in attendance this weekend: 

"We have the crowd noise out there really every practice because it is whatever that 70 decibel level is. We cranked it up a little bit more, or I should say a lot more, this week with the 20,000 fans in attendance. We just have to make sure we practice with it. They had one game in that building already, and just being mindful of how loud it was." 

On if the Browns have to significantly change the gameplan with Hunt missing practice and Hunt's status currently being uncertain for Sunday: 

"We have understudies, if you will, so guys have to be ready to fill those roles, and then we will adjust. We always have a plan. As we put the plan in Monday, Tuesday, we are mindful of guys we may or may not have and then we have guys that have to be ready to step in should somebody not be available." 

On WR Jarvis Landry playing in his 100th consecutive career game on Sunday: 

"That is an impressive achievement. It is not easy, and anybody who can do that is battling some sort of injury over those 100 games. For him to come off of a surgery that he came off of this year and be out there and be productive and looking like Jarvis to me, I think it is very impressive. He is somebody that works extremely hard in the weight room, getting treatment or whatever it is, he works hard on his body to make sure he is out there with his teammates." 

On how WR KhaDarel Hodge has earned a more significant role in the offense this year: 

"He has earned everything that we have given him. I should say, we have not really given him anything; he has earned all that. I just go by what I see. He is a good football player. He is a good wide receiver. He is dependable and makes plays on special teams. I have been happy with what he is able to do, but I do not think it is a mystery for why he is there." 

On how Hodge's special teams production has allowed him to earn a larger role in the offense over his career: 

"Yeah, I have seen that over the course of my career. A lot of guys that make their mark on [special] teams early and then develop into players, that happens. I think KhaDarel is kind of an example of that." 

On how WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are embracing their roles on the offense and focusing on winning, given they have fewer receptions than most of their other seasons at this point: 

"I think all of our players have embraced their role. I just do have to caution, we are three games into it so to say that we are exactly who are going to be on offense, defense or special teams, the games evolve and the game calls for a different attack in different weeks. I appreciate the two guys you mentioned. Between Odell and Jarvis, they are doing an outstanding job. Our success has been a big part of what they do. That does not surprise me. That is what this team is all about. It is about doing your job so other people can have success. They believe in that because I think they believe in their teammates." 

On if he feels the Browns offense is sometimes unfairly stereotyped on what it will be based on what his offense did in Minnesota last year, given contributions from other coaches and players: 

"I think it is hard because they can judge us however they want to, honestly. I think our goal when we get in here on Monday and Tuesday and put the gameplan together is just to do whatever we feel like is going to give our guys the best chance to win. How that evolves throughout the season remains to be seen, but we are not really concerned with what the outside world may think about it." 

On seeing Beckham making outstanding catches in practice: 

"He is uniquely talented, and you are right, he does do something in practice each day that you kind of shake your head at. I do not think I can do any of that (laughter). He does it in individual drills. He does it in the team periods. God gave him great gifts." 

On the state of the Browns pass offense: 

"I think we are coming along. I think that everything about our offense, defense, and special teams, everything is a working progress. That work occurs out there on the practice field yesterday, today and Friday, I think we are making strides in all those areas. That is really kind of our focus as we get going here is this is Thursday practice of Week 4. What does that look like? What does that feel like? We are introducing a couple of a new concepts to the guys. The thing is ever-evolving." 

On the Cowboys defensive front: 

"Stout is one word that comes to mind with some of the guys in the interior. I think their edge players are excellent. Between (Cowboys DE) Aldon Smith, No. 90 (Cowboys (DE DeMarcus Lawrence) and (DE) Everson Griffen, who I know a lot about, those are legit guys that are coming at you every single play, and you are going to get an honest day's worth from them. Linebackers (Cowboys LB) Joe Thomas and No. 54 (Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith), they can just run sideline-to-sideline. A really, really stout front that can move and run. You see them taking on blocks and splashing blockers. It is a really impressive front."

Offensive Coordinator Alex Van Pelt

On one or two areas of improvement for QB Baker Mayfield and how Mayfield has played in the first three games:

"The thing I see is the constant improvement each week, and that is what we are looking for from that position. Obviously, it was a tough start in Baltimore. No question, presented a lot of issues for us offensively. The following week against Cincinnati, you saw a solid performance and then he capped it off with another one back to back. Just the consistency. He is getting a better understanding of what we are asking him to do within the system, and he is growing each week within the system."

On if opposing defenses have installed similar gameplans against the Browns in the first three weeks:

"You see some of it. You see last week there was an emphasis on taking away the play action keep game, the nakeds and keepers so the ends were rushing up the field wider and not respecting the run as much, which opened up some big holes for us in the run game. You are starting to see teams do that a little bit more. Like I said last week, it is really a pick your poison and chase down the line or you play the quarterback. Baker has done a great job all season of continuing to carry on his fakes and they look the same every play, whether it is a run or a play-action keep."

On how good the Browns OL been blocking in the run game:

"They have been very impressive. We have a really good mix. (Offensive line coach Bill) Callahan has done an excellent job of putting together that run plan every week with (run game coordinator/running backs coach) Stump (Mitchell), mixing in the zone game with the gap schemes and pulling people. Our line has done an outstanding job and is really well-suited to do both. I thought our pullers last week were very effective. I think (G) Joel (Bitonio) in particular had a really good feel and does a great job when he gets out on his pulls, also (G) Wyatt (Teller). All of our guys have the ability to play the wide zone game with their strength and speed and then also the agility to get on the edge when they decide to pull. I think right now, we have a good mix going of both."

On confidence the Browns offense can produce in the passing game, particularly late in the game as the team has relied heavily on the run in recent weeks:

"We are confident. We are very confident. We have talented players outside. The quarterback is a talented player, our tight ends are a talented group and our running backs catch the ball well out of the backfield. We have just been in these situations now where we are in a four-minute offense at the end of the game so we have not been required to throw. There will be times this year obviously when we will. We are excited when that comes, as well, but we would rather have the lead and run the ball out to burn the clock up at the end. We are very realistic in fact that we know that we will be in some situations where we will have to rely on the pass game, and we are capable of doing that obviously."

On what has been learned about RB Nick Chubb's demeanor and personality and what it says about Chubb as a player:

"What a great teammate he is. Just a true pro in every sense. His attention to detail, he is all work. There is no nonsense. He is not a guy that needs accolades, but really cares. He just does everything the right way, the right way you ask him. His approach has been outstanding. It is a pleasure to be around him and see the way he works, his work ethic and the way he just approaches everything about the game. He is obviously extremely talented. Of course, you would want to be listed as one of the top backs, but he is in my mind. I am very excited that we have him on our team because he does everything the way we want him to.

On if Chubb will take on more of a load or if other RBs will fill RB Kareem Hunt's role, if Hunt is unable to play on Sunday: 

"We will see how the game goes. If he has to be the workhorse and carry it, he is definitely capable of doing that. Obviously, we like to keep him fresh as possible so (RB) D'Ernest (Johnson) and (RB) Dontrell (Hilliard) will get their opportunities, as well, as if Kareem can't go. They are definitely capable understudies, so to speak, and they are ready to roll, as well. I know they are excited if they get the chance and they will go in and productive as well. If Nick needs to carry the load, I think he is in a position where he can do that if need be." 

On what he learned from working with Cowboys Head Coach Mike McCarthy in Green Bay: 

"Yeah, there is a ton. I learned a lot from Coach McCarthy. We were together a long time before that, as well, at the University of Pittsburgh when he was a graduate assistant. I had a long relationship with Mike. I take a lot of this stuff now offensively and just philosophy and teaching. A lot of that I learned from Mike. He is a hell of a football coach." 

On McCarthy noticing QB Baker Mayfield's footwork change and if that was common between McCarthy and him: 

"Yes, just coming from the pure West Coast [offense] that we grew up in under (former Pitt Head Coach) Coach Paul Hackett, it was all about footwork, timing and rhythm so I am glad he noticed that." 

On WR KhaDarel Hodge and Hodge's expanding role on offense: 

"He tries to do everything right. He is in the right place at the right time. He is assignment sound. He has the skill to make the plays when you call his number. He does a lot of the dirty work in the run game, his ability to finish down the field on every single play. He is another guy you can group in that Nick job category that just does everything the right way that you ask him to do it." 

On WR Jarvis Landry playing in his 100th consecutive career game this week and what he has seen from Landry since returning from hip surgery: 

"He has been very impressive. Juice is another guy that he has a great knack for just playing football, being in the right place, understanding coverages and understanding where he fits into the route schemes. Another guy that is tremendous in the run game and his physicality that he brings in his blocking and his finish as well. A tribute to him that he is out there after what he has gone through this offseason. I know he is probably not still 100 percent, but he goes out and gives everything he has every week. We are glad to have him."

Defensive coordinator Joe Woods:

On challenges facing the Cowboys offense: 

"There is a lot of stuff. I think the biggest focus when you play a team like this is it is about how you execute. There are some different things that you want to do to try to take away some of the stuff they do well, but the biggest thing for us is everybody doing their job and really just executing the defensive plan to be honest with you." 

On what has impressed him about Cowboys QB Dak Prescott's performance this season: 

"He is really… I have coached against him. The last time was a couple years ago. He reminds me from how he runs the offense like a (Colts QB) Philip Rivers. He does a lot of checks at the line of scrimmage just getting them into the proper runs and the right pass routes. He has really developed. When you watch him, he has complete command of the offense. He is throwing a ball with accuracy, and then when you cover them and you do it all right, then he runs. He is really doing a good job. We are going to have our hands full." 

On how the ability to move DE Myles Garrett around helps the Browns DL and defense: 

"It really helps because offensively, teams are going to plan for him. When you move him around, if they plan on sliding protection to him or chipping him, when you move him around, it creates problems for them because they do not know exactly where he is going to be. It also gives our other guys an opportunity to get some one on ones. Moving him around has been beneficial for us so we are going to continue to do that." 

On if Garrett has the freedom to decide where he lines up on the DL: 

"No, we control that. We have good plans. (Defensive line) Coach (Chris) Kiffin does a good job coming up with different creative ways to get Myles free but also to get our D line free, as well." 

On what the Browns are expecting from Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott, who has not had a breakout game yet this season, and not potentially being lulled into a false sense of security with Elliott's numbers so far this year: 

"Yeah, I promise you that is not the case. We know we have a big challenge ahead of us. When you watch his runs, guys will hit him at the line of scrimmage, but when the run is over it is nine yards, 10 yards or 12 yards. Ge has not really gotten the big one that everybody is looking for consistently, but all his runs, he is getting good chunks of yards. He runs with good balance. He has power. We really have to get a lot of guys to the ball and gang tackle him, and we definitely do not want this game to be his breakout game." 

On what this game means to Garrett going back home to play in Arlington: 

"He has not said anything about it. I do not know if he has talked to the guys on the team about it, but he has not said anything to me at this point. I just think he is looking forward to the challenge playing a really good football team." 

On how much the Cowboys four WRs could tax the Browns DBs this week with Cowboys WR Cedrick Wilson having a big game last week, particularly with CBs Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams battling recent injuries:

"It creates issues. You have to account for it and just have something prepared if they want to come out and do that so we will be ready for that. Yeah, some of their receivers, you see from just watching, who is No. 11 (Cowboys WR Cedric Wilson)? You see him making big plays and it is like, 'Who is that guy? I know about the other guys.' They are very deep at receiver and they are very talented, but that is the NFL. I have coached DBs for a long time. You do not get a break so it is the next challenge. Our guys have stepped up and played well. They will look forward to the challenge, and hopefully, we can play well."

On what led to S Jovante Moffatt being elevated to the active roster:

"Really that is a better question for AB (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry). From our standpoint defensively, we like who he is as a young player. He has versatility. He played multiple positions for us throughout training camp so we feel like he has a bright future. You never know with injuries and things of that nature, he may have to be a guy that we bring up sooner than later."

On challenges preparing for Sunday without knowing if Ward will be able to play:

"Hopefully, he is fine. We are going to get him out on the field today. I know he battled through some injuries in training camp and some little nagging injuries also the last game. I think if we can get him out there the next two days and he moves around pretty well, that will bode well for us. If he is not available, it is just next man up. That is all you can really say because you can't protect everybody. You just have to go in with a good scheme and put guys in the best position you feel they can have success."

On how CB Kevin Johnson did in his first game last week:

"He had a little rust. There was a little rust. He did some good things. He just has not played in a long time so getting back out there and just getting the feel for the speed of the game, he did some good things, but he will definitely make some improvements going into this week."

On if LB Mack Wilson will receive more defensive reps this week:

"Yeah, that is the plan is to get him more reps. We have a plan for him in base also and sub-defense. With those guys coming back, we really did not want to put too much on them. Kevin probably had a few more reps than we would like for him to have when Denzel came out, but we will definitely get Mack some more reps this week."

On S Ronnie Harrison Jr. and Harrison preparing to earn more defensive reps:

"We are moving in that direction. It is just his comfort with the defense. He is picking up pretty fast. He is very intelligent. It is really just the game reps and getting him out there because games are a lot different than practice. We do have a plan to get him on the field more and kind of evaluate where he is, and hopefully, we can continue to do that and make him more part of our defense."

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer:

On WR JoJo Natson's injury and how it will impact the Browns return game: 

"I talked to JoJo. I saw him in the locker room after the game and called him Sunday night, and he was so positive and he was still holding onto hope that he would be OK and it would be a few weeks he would be out. Obviously, as you guys know, he is done for the year. My heart breaks for him. My heart breaks for me and us and our special teams because he was just starting to hit his stride, and as the weather got colder, we were going to hopefully get more opportunities, especially in the kickoff return area. That is going to hurt our football team because he has worked very, very hard to be the type of returner that we needed him to be, and obviously, his talent, his work ethic and his attitude were great. We are going to miss him, and he is going to be tough to replace." 

On potential candidates for punt and kickoff returns with Natson out for the season: 

"We have worked guys. We have worked (WR) Donovan Peoples-Jones and we have worked (RB) Dontrell (Hilliard) and (RB) D'Ernest (Johnson). (WR) Ryan (Switzer) will certainly be in play either this week or next week. It just depends on how quickly we get him ready if we need him. We have some candidates. They are all different type returns than JoJo so we have to adjust a little bit of what we do, but that is why we are paid as coaches and players, and we have to go out and do our job." 

On if he prefers to have one player handle both punt and kickoff return or one player for each: 

"We will put the best guy at either spot. If it is the same guy, it is the same guy. If not, it will be different, obviously." 

On what Peoples-Jones has shown in practice and if he is comfortable with Peoples-Jones getting his first opportunity as the returner this week, if needed: 

"Being that we are in Big Ten country and he played in the Big Ten, that is pretty high-level football. He had 70 punt returns in his career so he has had the experience and been under that kind of pressure before. Obviously, the NFL is the next step up. He has improved a lot since he has been here – tracking the ball and catching the ball. He is built like a kickoff returner, like we have mentioned before, but he has punt return experience. He is valuable in either phase." 

On the Cowboys special teams unit: 

"Their punter (Cowboys P Chris Jones) has not given up any return yards. They have only punted eight times because their offense is so good. They brought in (Cowboys K) Greg Zuerlein from the Rams. The kicker followed his coach. (Cowboys special teams coordinator) John Fassel came from the Rams, as well. Greg has had an outstanding career kickoff wise and field goal wise. They have (Cowboys WR) CeeDee Lamb as their punt returner, a big, strong, fast, dangerous dude. He is a first-round pick for reason. Their kickoff returner (Cowboys RB) Tony Pollard was one of the top returners coming out a year ago because he is fast and strong, and he has that running back vision. Then they are a fake team. John Fassel has been a fake guy his whole career with the Rams. He has already faked two punts against Atlanta earlier this year a couple weeks ago. We know every week we have our work cut out for us, I know I sound like a broken record when I say that, but every week people will attack you in different ways. They are a really good football team. They are well-coached and they play hard." 

On the decision to kick out of the end zone against Washington last week: 

"As you probably know, it was really windy on Sunday. More wind than we normally have, at least than we had in a lot of games last year. I felt like, let's give our kicker the best chance and the best opportunity to kick the ball deep. We do not want them returning the ball from the 10, 12, 15-yard line, even though if we have good coverage, they still get the ball at the 30-35. We did not want to hurt our football team that way. It is just kind of the way the winds were. Our attitude is always going to be aggressive. We are always going to believe that our kickoff and punt teams are going to be our weapon for our defense and helping get people as far back as possible. I think the decision was made more by the wind than by who we are playing or how we have been covering." 

On P Jamie Gillan's start to the season, given it appears not every punt has been as desired:

"No, you are right. He has been inconsistent, and I am preaching to him consistency. I was thinking about this the other day, and everybody went through it without the preseason – obviously I will never use that as an excuse – but when you have a young punter that does not have a ton of experience and especially at a high level of football, I think the preseason really would have helped him get rolling. This is Week 4. I have already talked to him about it. Obviously, it is indoors so it is a little bit better situation for him. He has to be laser focused on every rep. He has got to learn from every rep. He has to continually get better because we set the bar very high and he has set the ball the very high for himself. In order to reach that, he has to be more consistent."

On if he hopes that with Browns defensive players returning from injury it will provide a positive impact on special teams with more personnel available, including CB Tavierre Thomas:

"It is like that every year. Tavierre has done a nice job of playing the nickel for us, and the more he plays there, we have to have somebody else fill in as a gunner, on kickoff or on any phase for that matter. He is very valuable no matter what he does because of who he is, not just because he is a good special teams player. (WR) KhaDarel Hodge, as well, as a receiver. We have had young guys fill in. They just get need more experience. It is my job to coach them up. They are young guys, but everybody has young guys. I love coaching young guys because typically they are available, they are healthy and they are energetic. We have had guys move up from the practice squad that have been on the active 53 before. Those guys are chomping at the bit to get after Dallas on Sunday. That is kind of the guys you want to coach and teach because I think we have a really good locker room in that regard."

On Hodge earning a bigger role in the Browns offense after being a core special teams player:

"The great thing about coaching special teams – I have said this before – is that you have a lot of young guys that play defense and offense but they start out being successful on special teams. KhaDarel is just another guy that has done that, and I am really proud of him. I love the fact that he is involved in the offense. He is helping us win games. He is downfield blocking. He is catching the ball when you need him to catch the ball. He is running great routes. He has a great attitude. I think the other players and younger players kind of feed off that. They feed off the fact that Tavierre has been a great four teamer and now he has really expanded his role on defense. They feed off the fact that KhaDarel has been a great special teams player, and now he is becoming more involved in the offense and being successful in doing so. I love that. Is it harder for me? Yeah, sure because then you have to replace guys, but that is what we do. Whether a guy gets hurt or a guy is more involved on offense or defense, you have to go out and coach those guys up. If you have the right guys in the locker room, which I know that we do, then you continue to improve on special teams."

On if it was challenging to identify core special teams players with a limited offseason and no preseason games and if he is just now starting to figure out who some of the key contributors can be:

"Yeah, a little bit. You see a little bit about what they can do athletically in the drill work. We started out slow on kickoff because we are challenging people right off the bat, and we did not pick off where we left off. That is more of me being too aggressive and not being smart enough to say, 'Hey, let's pull back the reins a little bit and let's kick a couple of touchbacks. Let's get guys used to just running down on kickoff because many of them have not done it since maybe early in college.' Obviously our other guys have not done it since we played last December before the season started. I think a lot of guys are starting to hit their stride now, and I am excited about where we are. We are going to be aggressive. We are going to continue to set the bar high, and we hope to play well on Sunday."

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