Press Conference

Kevin Stefanski: 'We are learning about all of our rookies every rep they are getting'

Cleveland's head coach, coordinators meet with reporters Thursday

On if he is excited to see T Jedrick Wills Jr. compete against a talented Washington's DL and learn more about Wills' skillset: 

"Yeah, I think we are learning about all of our rookies every rep they are getting. Jed is somebody that is going to get incrementally better each week, just like we hope for our offense just to learn from each one of our reps. Playing in this league, there are no easy outs. There are some really good defensive lines that he is going to face and that our offensive line is going to face. Obviously this week, the team coming in here with five first-round picks on the defensive line is really a big challenge for our whole team." 

On what makes Washington WR Terry McLaurin so effective and if McLaurin moves around or stays in the slot: 

"They will move them around. He just he does everything well. He separates from people, he is good with the ball in his hands and makes contested catches. He is very, very dynamic." 

On the Kentucky grand jury's announcement yesterday regarding the Breonna Taylor case and if the team and its social justice leadership team has or will discuss it: 

"Like we have been talking about since the spring, we want to affect positive change, and we are starting in our community. I think our players, our social justice committee and all the players have shown to make sure that they want to help. To that end, we met with (Cleveland Division of Police) Chief (Calvin D.) Williams this week on Zoom and (Cleveland City) Councilman (Matt) Zone just to get a dialogue about our community and what we can do to help. That is definitely something that is always going to be on our players' minds and see ways that we can affect positive change." 

On if extra time is being dedicated to special teams during practice, given the unit's coverage in the first two weeks of the season: 

"We are very aware that we have to do better there. There are some things that we can do schematically and there are some things that we can do personnel-wise, and we need to do it. I think we have the people to do that." 

On the importance of executing the first 15 offensive plays to open a game and when that set of plays is determined:  

"For us, at least our processes is I work on that Friday afternoon with a ton of input from the coaches and from the quarterback. I think a lot of emphasis gets put on those first 15 plays externally. We are just as diligent about worrying about the final 15 plays or the middle 15 plays. We want to operate throughout. A lot of times in those openers, you are trying to see how a defense is going to play you and you are going to show them one formation. We just have to make sure that we are clean operators throughout the 60 minutes as opposed to just concerning ourselves with those first 15." 

On the significance of getting a lead early: 

"It is huge. It is the NFL. You would love to jump out, get a lead and protect that lead if you can. These teams are really good so both teams are trying to do that. Sometimes the game is in the balance into the 60th minute, and then sometimes you have success early. You just have to play the game as it unfolds." 

On if the Browns have considered using P Jamie Gillan for kickoffs: 

"I will leave all those conversations between (special teams coordinator Mike) Priefer and myself. Just in terms of all roster related decisions or all schematic decisions, we talk about it all." 

On DT Larry Ogunjobi's performance in the first two weeks: 

"Larry plays really hard. He practices hard. He plays hard. It is important to him. He has a great combination of power and quickness. He is somebody that we rely on. He is one of the leaders of the football team. He has played well, and we are relying on him this week, as well." 

On TE Austin Hooper and if there will be more chances to get Hooper the ball: 

"Yes, I think there will always be more chances to get the ball, but if you look at any of our success we have had the first two ball games, No. 81 is typically heavily involved in that success, whether he is catching the ball or not. I do know that opportunities in the pass game, they come one week, and the next week, maybe they are not there. It is really kind of you judge it after a few games more than two." 

On how much attention he pays to the run/pass play balance during a game, given the Browns were essentially even in the first half last week: 

"We have some great coaches during the game that helped me out, particularly the guys up in the booth are giving me our tendencies on first and second down, by personnel and all that. I think balance does not have to mean 50/50 like we have talked about before. If we are 50/50, that is kind of the nature of how it went, but as long as you have the threat of the run and the pass for a 60-minute game, ultimately, that is what you are looking for." 

On if DEs Olivier Vernon and Adrian Clayborn will practice today and how Clayborn played at the start of the Bengals game: 

"We will do the same thing we did [yesterday] with those guys so they will be working on the side. Adrian, it was fun to see him out there early in the game. It was unfortunate that he got injured there, but you kind of see what he has done in his career and what he is capable of affecting the pass game." 

On Baltimore and Cincinnati using a five-man front on occasion and if he expects to see that more as the Browns have success in the run game: 

"I think the five man front has been around for a while. I think a lot of teams like to play that Bear front or Navajo, Jam or whatever they call it, where they want to cover up the center and the two guards. I think that has kind of been around for a while. Some people see it as a run-stopping front, and some people see it as a pass-rushing front where they get five one-on-ones potentially. I think we have faced some teams already this season, we are going to be facing one this week and I am sure down the down the line here where they are going to play multiple fronts and they are going to be in different looks. That is what is so important for us offensively to communicate both on the field and then when we get to the sideline look at these fronts and have some conversation about how we are picking things up in the pass game and how we are blocking it in the run game." 

On if Wills' transition from RT to LT 'has gone better than expected': 

"I do not know if I want to comment on it. He has played two games. With any of the rookies I just do not know if it is fair yet to say one way or the other on these guys. Jed in particular, he is doing a nice job. We are two games into it. We understand that there are going to be some mistakes that he makes, and there are going to be some bad play calls that I make. I am a rookie, too. We understand that we are not going to make some proclamations after two weeks." 

On NFL players making adjustments as a player builds tape and if that is similar to MiLB players moving up to MLB: 

"Yeah, in a lot of ways it is. That is where we are fortunate to have some really good coaches on this staff that can work with these rookies and understand that the look is going to change. You are going to go up against different players. The technique has to get better week in and week out. That is where I give our coaches and the players a ton of credit."

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer:

On the Browns' special teams play to open the season, given it is likely not the start he hoped: 

"Yeah, it is not even close to be honest with you. We are not playing at the expectation level that obviously I have set for this unit or the guys have set for themselves. We take a lot of pride in special teams with the Cleveland Browns. We obviously have not covered kicks anywhere near like we covered them a year ago. A lot of same guys have come back – we had some new faces in there – but obviously, we are going to continue to challenge people because that is our philosophy, but at the end of the day, we have to cover a heck of a lot better. Obviously, the first game was a terrible game. I am glad I did not talk to you guys after that game. It was not a lot of fun. We did not play well. We hurt our football team in numerous areas. We played a little bit better against Cincinnati but still did not cover kickoffs very well. We have our challenges, but like anything else, I have always had the philosophy that you just go back to work. You keep working. You get the guys that you have and you get them better. They have a great attitude. They have had a good week of practice thus far this week. We plan on getting after Washington. Although they are very good, we plan on having our best game of the season so far." 

On problems identified with the Browns' kickoff coverage in the first two weeks: 

"We have not covered kickoffs with the same speed and tenacity that we did a year ago. We have lost leverage where we did not lose leverage last year. We have not tackled well, like we tackled well a year ago. Does that mean we need some reps under our belt before we get going? That is no excuse. Everybody is in the same boat. No one had preseason games last year so we will never use that as an excuse. We just have to play better. We have to play faster. We have to play more aggressive. We have to keep our hands. We have to keep leverage. We have to do the little things better than we have obviously been doing thus far in order to be a weapon for this football team." 

On K Cody Parkey's performance in his first game: 

"He made his PATs. That was a start. That was huge. Could he kick off better? Sure. He had a couple nice ones. The one out of bounds is unacceptable. We will never accept that. That was a mistake. Other than that, I thought he kicked off OK – good enough for us to win with. Like I said, his PATs all went right down the middle. Protection was good, and the snap and the hold were good. We have to keep going in that direction." 

On disappointment in having to make a kicking change early in the season and his confidence in Parkey: 

"The thing about Cody, he is very smooth. He is very accurate. He is a veteran guy that that has been there before. That is why we brought him in on the practice squad to give us that stability. I was very disappointed to be honest with you. We had to make the change. It was a change that was necessary because it was more mental than anything with (Bengals K) Austin (Seibert). I think Austin still an NFL kicker. I think he will kick in this league for a long time if he can get the mental part of it figured out because he is very, very talented." 

On signing K Matt McCrane to the practice squad: 

"I had studied Matt coming out of Kansas State, like we do all these young, talented kickers. He is somebody that we were interested in Minnesota to bring in as a college free agent. I have always kept in contact with him and had interest in him. The big thing, he did a great job in the XFL. I think he was 10 for 10 on his field goals and he kicked off well. He was very successful there. He is like Cody in that he is very smooth and he is very accurate. He needs to get a little bit stronger as he gets older here with his kickoffs especially, but he is a guy that can help us if we ever needed him to." 

On the Browns' kickoffs not reaching the end zone consistently, if that is a strategic choice and the balance between kicking for coverage versus touchbacks: 

"That was our philosophy all last year, if you guys recall. We were very good at it, and we felt like we were the best kickoff team in the NFL year ago. We wanted to start that way this year in Baltimore. They got us with one good return, and obviously, Cincinnati got us with a couple. I think it is more of a situational thing. Right now, we have to get our confidence back on kickoff. We are still going to challenge people, but we have to pick and choose our spots." 

On teaching points following the onside kick during the Falcons-Cowboys game on Sunday: 

"Our guys know that the ball has to go 10 yards before the kicking team can touch it. They also know that the kicking team cannot block unless the ball is going 10 yards or if the hands team comes up and blocks them first. The big coaching point today – we are doing hands team today – was if that ball spinning and it is an easy one, just to fall on it. That is exactly what we would do. I know that is a tough situation and that was a tough play. The crazy thing is Atlanta had played great on special teams the whole day, and they are going to be remembered for that one play. They stopped two fakes, covered well and they forced penalties, and unfortunately, they give up that play at the end that really hurt them. For us, our philosophy would be to get on that ball quickly. If you think it is going to go 10 while we are still protected within that 10-yard window, we have to get on the ball." 

On evaluating WR JoJo Natson's returns in the first two weeks: 

"We have not been challenged with our kickoff return. Everybody has kicked touchbacks, as you guys have seen the first two games, because he is dangerous. I do not blame teams for doing that. That is what we did against him last year when he was with LA. He will be ready. The good thing about JoJo, he is making good decisions. He wants to make a play. He understands his importance to this football team as our return man, but he is making good decisions back there, which I am really pleased with thus far. Punt return, he had a nice 13-yarder against Cincinnati, gave us great field position and we score three or four plays later so we helped set up a score there. That has to be our philosophy – score or setup a score. Obviously, the No. 1 thing for both return units is ball possession. We have not had the great opportunities yet, but hopefully, we will get some coming up this weekend."

Offensive Coordinator Alex Van Pelt:

On QB Baker Mayfield's ability to throw on the run: 

"That is definitely a strength of his game is his ability to throw outside the pocket on the run. That is one of the things that we kind of identified coming in last year and watching the tape of the previous two years. That is a strong point in his game. Just trying to find ways to get him and allow him to be able to do things that he does really well, and that is one of them. He did a great job with that." 

On the challenge Washington's DL presents: 

"That front is very stout, a very talented group. Obviously, they play the wide nine techniques and the wide ends so it will be tough to get outside of the pocket. That is OK. Those types of situations help a ton in the run game when they are that wide and they are playing for keepers. That opens up a lot of things with the run. However they decided to play, obviously, we will be able to adjust as the game goes." 

On watching the film of the Browns' final scoring drive from last week's game: 

"That was a lot of fun, obviously. You get in those situations in four-minute offense and you are able to go down and punch it in late in the game like that when you have a lead, that is what it is all about. Really hats off to that blocking unit up front, and that includes the wide receivers and tight ends, and our fullbacks got involved. (Offensive line) Coach (Bill) Callahan put together a hell of a running plan for us last week and to be able to do that to close the game out or at least put yourself in position to be up at the end the game. That is a tribute to those men up front and the runners, as well." 

On if the Browns offense is hoping to build off the run game to help set up the passing game: 

"I think that is something we do well. We came into training camp saying we want to establish the wide zone and the run game and to be able to do that, and then everything really opens up off of that. Yes, I think that was kind of what we expected it to look like, and having that offensive line play as well as they did up front and then having two special guys in the backfield that could break explosive gains from anywhere on the field, it is awesome from our offense to have that ability." 

On what the Browns accomplish with pre-snap motion: 

"That is getting into a little gameplan specifics. Let's let you guys figure that one out down the road. The more that you can change the looks and do the things that you are accustomed to doing, that is good for offense." 

On his conversations with WR Odell Beckham Jr. about his number of targets and Beckham accepting the fact there may be fewer in some games: 

"It is a team game. That is one thing that coaches preach from Day 1. It is a team, and we are going to win as a team. I know (pass game coordinator/wide receivers) coach (Chad) O'Shea preaches that in the wide receiver room. It starts first with the team, and whatever is best for the team is what we are going to do. I think he understands that. Whenever you have the ability to run the ball as effectively as we did on Thursday night, he may not get as many opportunities, but there are going to be games now when things are not going quite that way and we are going have to lean on him to catch the ball and run routes and get open. It is finding that fine balance of what you are doing and then on how the defenders defend you. Last week, we felt we could run the ball well, and we did. It is really about not targets but efficiency of those targets. He was targeted not as many times as in Baltimore, but he was much more successful and efficient on those targets. I think he knows that." 

On how Beckham was able to get as open on his TD reception and other routes:

"The touchdown catch was an extremely disciplined route. He did exactly what he was asked to do. He was at the right depth. It was a play that we had set up a little bit of earlier in the game. We ran a route off of the same type of action, and we came back to it late in the game. He made it look exactly the same. His precision of route running was excellent."

On if he expects to see more five man fronts from opposing defenses if RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt continue to have strong rushing performances:

"I think you will definitely see some heavier boxes as we start running the ball well. Teams are going to have to put an extra defender down there, and then that is the old give-and-takes and now all of sudden you are outside and you are one on one, you are not doubling people with the high safeties over the top and then it opens up the passing game for you. It is a fine balance of having runs that you can still run versus a loaded box, which we will definitely have. We are excited to take advantage of the matchups outside, which we will have this week."

On if the coaches meet on Friday night or Saturday to discuss the script of opening plays for matchups:

"It is just the work of the week really. You kind of see what looks really good with practice and what you executed well in practice, and it comes to the mindset of how you want to play the game and how you want to start the game. Is there anything that you guys want to set up for later in the game off of those first calls early in the game? (Head) Coach Kevin (Stefanski) does the majority of that, but it is a collaborative effort throughout the week of what has looked good. We feel these are a set of great plays that we feel really good about those in general."

On Mayfield's performance last week and needs to be done to take the next step:

"It is just consistency and stacking successes. The first week, we dug ourselves into a little hole there and we could not make our way out of it. This week, we were exactly where we wanted to be. I thought he was extremely focused and locked in during the week. He had a great understanding of the plan, and we challenged him to find completions all over the field. We actually put some numbers on him, and he hit those numbers. Just continuing to have that laser focus, understanding the plan and understanding that the defense dictates where the ball goes often. The decision making that the quarterback has is going to make him successful. With the exception of the one interception I know he would love to have back, I thought he played a great game."

On the emphasis on Mayfield ending his interception streak:

"It is huge. We never want to throw interceptions, ever, ever. When they do come up, like the tipped pass in Baltimore, those are ones that you can stomach, but as he grows in this system and learns that if we call a shot play and it is not there, it is OK to check the ball down. You do not have to throw it. We are still learning each other, and we are still learning the system. I think you will continue to see that growth. That streak will end soon."

On what TE Austin Hooper is doing to help the Browns offense that may not show up on the stat sheet:

"Gees, Hoop is just a team guy. He goes out and he does everything the right way. His run-game blocking is something that probably does not flash on TV, but you see it often on the field. He is a big part of the success as are all the tight ends in our run game right now. That he is doing extremely well. He has a great understanding of route combinations and schemes, and it is not just about him. He knows how to get other people open, as well. That is some of the stuff that you may not see that does show up in these last two games."

On T Jedrick Wills Jr.'s transition to LT through two games and the challenge for Wills going up against Washington's DL, including Washington DE Chase Young:

"He has really stepped up. I am really proud of his progress he has made through training camp. He had some rough days there with those guys rushing him on that left side. Just his ability to fight back and the toughness that he shows. Really, you forget he is a rookie when you watch him out there during the game. Other than the Sunday or Thursday night, you forget the fact that he is a rookie. He is playing really well right now. This challenge will be a good one for him, but we expect him to step up to it."

Defensive coordinator Joe Woods:

On LB Mack Wilson and CBs Kevin Johnson and Greedy Williams returning to practice this week: 

"It is good to see those guys back out there. It really just shows you how committed they are to the team. To see Mack back out there, Kevin and Greedy, we are taking it day by day, but we are working our way back and getting those guys on the field." 

On if he sees similarities between Washington's DL and the 49ers' DL last year: 

"I really have not flipped over and watched them, but from everything I hear, I think it is very similar just in terms of those guys having first-round draft picks across their defensive line." 

On the boost Johnson and Williams returning could potentially give to the Browns secondary: 

"Definitely a big boost. Both of those guys are young guys but guys that have been starters in the league and proven they can play at a high level and Kevin having the ability to play multiple positions. We just have to be smart moving forward with those guys not trying to put everything on them from the beginning and just kind of ease them back into it." 

On what Wilson can bring to the Browns defense that may have been lacking in the first two games: 

"Mack is a highly competitive player. He just brings that toughness to the defense. When he is out there, he is just going 100 miles an hour, and I think guys feed off of that energy. Getting him back in the fold will be critical for us defensively just because of what he brings to the entire team, not only the defense." 

On if there is a sense of relief to potentially getting Johnson, Williams and Wilson back earlier than what may have initially been expected: 

"I do not feel like it is a sense of relief. I just feel like you are getting back to where you have more bullets. There are more things we can do. We can be more versatile and create some different packages that we want to create. I think that is the biggest boost. For the guys that have been playing, I think now they are gaining confidence. They are out there on the game field. They are making some plays. Overall for the whole defense, it gives us more depth and more confidence at each position." 

On DE Porter Gustin: 

"The first thing is I always see him out there in pre-practice doing these leg stretches on the sled (laughter). I know he prepares. You love a guy like that because he gives you everything he has on every play. He is a guy who when you watch him, guys see him. I think he pushes other guys to play at the same level that he plays. It is good to have him out there and see him have some success." 

On having DE Adrian Clayborn as a veteran presence on the DL and Clayborn assisting Gustin: 

"It really helps a lot. I think the more veteran guys that are proven in this league helps the younger guys in terms of development and in terms of preparing themselves. I was out on the field the other day, and they were just going through some games and some stunts on the defensive line, and he had some little coaching points. It is stuff that he has learned from being out there and being in the fire. I think having him as a veteran presence has really helped us." 

On the biggest areas to improve on third down after not being able to get off the field:

"Just that – not being able to get off the field (laughter). I will tell you and you all know we were 0-5 on fourth down. You look at it two ways: you are happy we held them on five third downs, but the fourth downs we did not. That was a mix of different things I was trying to do – man, single-high man, two-high man and mixing in some zones. For me, it is a feeling out process because you are really trying to evaluate what your players are capable of doing. You want to put them in a good position and not giving them too much. You sit back and we can do this, we can add this and we can do this, and then you are like, 'Eh, they can't handle that right now.' I think we slowly have to add things as we continue to gain experience on defense. At the same time, do not give them so much that they can't execute."

On if part of the Browns' adjustments on defense relate to having more familiarity with the scheme and personnel, including after a modified offseason program and preseason schedule:

"Yeah, and I do not want to make excuses for our failures. Part of the process is getting stuff on tape, evaluating guys and teaching them that you are off on this technique or you did not execute this coverage properly or whatever it may be. I think the more we play, the more experience we get. I feel like then we will improve defensively."

On if he reached out to 49ers DE Nick Bosa after his injury on Sunday:

"I did not get the opportunity. I talked to a couple of coaches there. Obviously, they feel for Nick, just because of what he has meant to the team for everything he has done and he did for last year as a rookie. They are very confident he is going to recover, and it has always been the next man up attitude there so I am sure they will recover and be fine."

On if he is getting a better understanding what S Ronnie Harrison Jr. can do in the defense and if Harrison could see more defensive snaps soon:

"Yes. He loves football. That dude practices with his hair on fire. I was in there taking snaps as scout team quarterback, and man, he was scaring me in terms of what he was doing. He brings that type of presence to our defense, but you do not want to put him on the field until you feel like he knows enough to have success because if he goes out there and he is not comfortable and does not execute, now you are kind of working backwards. He will be in the picture more this week and the upcoming weeks, but we definitely want to put him in there based on what we know he can handle."

On players potentially returning to a game after not practicing for consecutive weeks:

"I do not prefer that. I want some reps, practice reps with our guys. There are different things each week that teams do that you have to be on point in terms to defend. If you can't get out there and go at high-tempo and get those reps, it is hard to execute it on gameday. The guys are out there participating. We have to take it day by day and evaluate them, and hopefully, we get them all back for the game this week."

On DE Myles Garrett creating the strip-sack on Thursday night and if he has talked to Garrett since then about needing to make those type of plays regularly to become Defensive Player of the Year, one of Garrett's goals:

"We made an adjustment at halftime. With OV (DE Olivier Vernon) out, we were doing some different things with Myles that we really want to do moving forward. Just the little adjustment we made at halftime worked. It was great to see it work. We definitely want to see Myles do more of that. I really do not talk to him about Defensive Player of the Year and all that type of stuff. I just want him to be the best defensive player for us. We know he is capable of wrecking a game when he is playing at his best. I think that is what he is focused on, and hopefully, that shows up this week."

On DT Larry Ogunjobi's performance this season and Ogunjobi means to the Browns defensive:

"He means a lot. He is kind of behind closed doors like maybe the sole of the defensive line. Just when you hear him talk, he is always talking about something meaningful. When you watch him work, you see him do things in practice because I always try to pull out positives, practice plays and areas that we need to improve, but when you show him how to do something in practice and he can back it up by him doing it in the game, I think it shows other players, 'If we practice like we are going to play on Sunday, we are going to make plays.' I think the has brought that aspect to the defense."

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