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Mike Pettine press conference - 12/23

Opening statement:
"I want to begin by recognizing (OL) Alex Mack and (OL) Joe Thomas for their selections to the Pro Bowl. Certainly, as we all know, that is an individual honor, but certainly, football is team first, and these guys both epitomize a team-first mentality. I don't know if we could have two better guys represent the Browns. I know for Alex this is his third and Joe, as I joked last year, they should rename the game 'Joe Thomas and Friends Pro Bowl.' That accomplishment, when you sit back and look at it, nine in nine years is pretty special. He has done so much for the team, so much for the organization. Just a model of consistency, leads by example and has that leadership trait that he makes people around him better. Then going back to Alex, it is great to see him recognized. What he went through to get back, I know he started the year slow, but he has been playing his best football over the last several weeks. It is a statement to his perseverance and how hard he worked. Again, good to see. For (TE) Gary (Barnidge), for (WR) Travis (Benjamin), for Bade (DB Johnson Bademosi), to be recognized as alternates, I think that is great to see, too. Hopefully, these are all guys that find a way to Hawaii. It would certainly be well deserved – three more good examples of guys that put the team above themselves.

"From a game standpoint, no hiding from it. It is another difficult challenge. A very similar script to last week, we are going to go on the road to a tough environment, playing a team that is on a roll. I guess now they have won eight in a row and are fighting for a playoff spot. Very difficult place to play, especially late in the year, but it is a challenge we look forward to. We are going to have a good couple days of prep but go out there, step up to the plate and take a big swing at it.

"Kansas City's offense, very efficient. I think it starts with the quarterback. He (Chiefs QB Alex Smith) is not turning the ball over. He is more likely to take a sack than he is to force a throw. He does a really good job for them knowing where the ball needs to go and getting the ball there. Their run game, I think what they do schematically, a lot of the zone-read stuff so it still falls back to Seattle. There are some parallels there. (Chiefs TE) Travis Kelce was just named to the Pro Bowl and that is well deserved. He is playing at an extremely high level. He is their go-to guy.

"Defensively, (Chiefs LB) Tamba Hali seems to be ageless, still plays with an extremely high motor, very passionate. He loves football, and it shows up in how he plays. (Chiefs DL) Dontari Poe is a force inside, gets good push and can be very disruptive to a run game and is a better pass rusher than people give him credit for. On the back end, it is hard to overlook (Chiefs DB) Eric Berry, what he has overcome to come back this year and play. It was great to see him recognized, as well, with his nod to the Pro Bowl.

"(Special) teams wise, they do a good job. This is Tabes' (special teams coordinator Chris Tabor) mentor he is going against. I know this is a big week for us on teams, as well.

"On the injury front we will have some guys miss today. (RB) Duke (Johnson Jr.) will be limited somewhat with a hamstring. I am not sure how many reps he will get. Alex Mack, Joe Thomas – Alex has a calf and Joe Thomas with the knee will not work today, but hopefully, we will get them back in some form or fashion tomorrow. (RB) Glenn Winston is still in the protocol. Wide receiver wise, (WR) Taylor Gabriel will miss today. He is dealing with a personal issue, family related, as is (RB) Isaiah Crowell. Those guys will be back later in the week, but they will not be here today. They have been excused from practice."

On where he ranks Chiefs QB Alex Smith:
"Oh, I am not going there (laughter). When you look at why they have won eight in a row, I think that is the easy answer when you look at it. He is playing at a very high level. I think (Chiefs Head Coach) Andy Reid does an outstanding job matching what he has talent wise to the scheme. He takes advantage of what his guys do. Alex was a mobile quarterback coming out, and he hasn't lost that through his NFL career. They are doing a lot of good things that put him on the run and stress the defense."

On if Smith is an example of not giving up on a QB, given his performance with San Francisco:
"I think it falls back to what we have talked about before. If he is capable of doing it and you surround him with the right people and the right scheme, then that is how you judge it. A quarterback is only going to be as good as his supporting cast. You also have to make sure that you are allowing him to do things that he can do that he can excel at it. If a guy is not a pocket passer, don't let him be one. If he is not a sprint out guy, don't put him on the move. When a guy is comfortable in what he is doing and he is confident in it, then you can see it. He is a good example. I think it proves the point, too, that sometimes when a quarterback is not successful a lot of times he gets too much of the blame, and when he is successful, sometimes he gets too much of the credit. It is a big part – I wouldn't say it is exactly 1/11th – there are 10 other guys out there that his success or failure depends on."

On if Barnidge should have been one of the four TEs selected for the Pro Bowl and how surprising his season has been:
"I have said this before: it is not surprising to the people that know him because we saw glimpses of it a year ago, even when he was the second or when (former Browns and Dolphins TE) Jordan (Cameron) was out. As far as ranking him with those other guys, I am not going to go there. Did Gary Barnidge play at a Pro Bowl level this year? Absolutely. That is why we are hopeful he can find a way into the game."

On Mack's improvement over the season:
"He has improved. He has improved. That injury, it occurred in the middle of the year last year. It was more than just a broken ankle. There was ligament damage. There was a lot for him to overcome. In the spring, it was even a matter of – we always talked about some of those guys that practice so hard that you have to save them from themselves a little bit – he had a tough time with that because he wants to go full speed all the time. There is just no substitute for time with that. A lot of times with those injuries, whether it is a knee or something where it was that devastating of an injury, that I think the body part where whatever it is gets to the point where structurally it is fine but it so much more the mental and the ability to trust it. I think we all saw that with Travis (Benjamin), just to stick the foot in the ground and make a cut, where it is more of a mental block than it is a physical. I think Alex, like anyone else having gone through that, went through the same thing, and he has gotten to the point where you can ask him this, but it appears to us that he is much more confident in it than he was earlier in the year."

On if Mack is playing at the same level now as he was at the beginning of 2014:
"I don't know if you can make that statement. I just know he has improved significantly from the start of the season and he is back now. If you just look at his last month, he is playing at a high level."

On Mack's ability to opt out of his contract after the season, given he now may have a bargaining chip having made his third Pro Bowl:
"He could. We don't have much control over that. That is his personal decision. It is in his favor that he has that in his contract. We will react accordingly. Alex Mack is a Cleveland Brown. We would love to have him here and be a part of what we are doing, but that is a decision that will be made down the road."

On explaining running game struggles, despite having Thomas and Mack:
"That is a function of a lot of things. This year was a different year. I think it took us a while to figure out who we were from a staff standpoint, figuring out where we were schematically. Having to make the change at offensive line coach was something that was difficult to overcome. We all know what transpired there. The running game is not just a function of the offensive line, and I have said that all along. It is the tight ends. It is the receivers blocking. It is the backs making the right reads. We went against a who's who of the top-10 in the NFL. We have gone against some pretty good fronts, and there were games where we went into saying running the ball will be an afterthought and that we needed to throw it first to set up the run. We have had some recent success and that has been good to see. Hopefully, we have two more weeks to continue it."

On DL Danny Shelton's performance against the Seahawks and if it was his best game this season:
"I would say it is up there. I don't know if I can definitively say that was his best one. He is another guy who sometimes you see rookies who play well early and then start to drop off with the proverbial rookie wall. That is not the case with Danny. He is doing a good job. He is getting better. He is learning. As I have said all along, there is no substitute for live game reps. He has played a good amount of snaps, and he is getting experience against some veteran offensive linemen and learn the tricks of the trade. He has been able to start to apply them on the field. He has a much better understanding of what we are trying to do and even more so what the other team is trying to do. What do backfield sets mean? What do line splits mean? Are we doing a good job gathering pre-snap information, line calls? If they make a certain call, does that mean run or pass? Being able to apply that and all that stuff that we talk about instead of just lining up and playing. Being able to process information pre-snap and use it without overloading yourself and slowing it down. He has done a good job with it. You throw in those other two rookies that I think have followed a similar course in that they are playing well as of late – (DL) Xavier Cooper and (LB) Nate Orchard."

On Shelton gaining confidence as he's been hard on himself all season:
"You want guys that are like that. He didn't walk in here thinking he had the NFL all figured out and knew that there was a learning curve that he was going to be on. You want all your guys as they log more game experience to have the ability to use it moving forward and tuck those coachable and teaching moments away and be able to apply them and not be, as I always like to say, a repeat offender from a mistakes standpoint. 'Hey that guy got me on that one time. That is not going to happen again.'"

On why WR Taylor Gabriel's receiving average is lower this season:
"I am sure that is a function of a lot of things. Some of it is schematic. Some of the routes that may be (former Browns and Falcons offensive coordinator) Kyle (Shanahan) had him running last year aren't necessarily some of the ones we have him running. He has missed some time. I don't get caught too much up in the numbers. We call a play. He needs to know where to line up. He needs to know what his job is. I think last year he snuck up on some teams and hit some big plays and people are a little bit more aware of who he is and what he is capable of, but I don't see it as his play has dropped off. He gets a lot of pluses on the grade sheet. That is all we can ask. Go out and do your job."

On QB Johnny Manziel's development with ball protection:
"It was unfortunate the fumble that he had in the Seattle game because there were a couple of instances when he was in traffic in that game where he did a much better job of securing the football. (Quarterbacks coach) Kevin (O'Connell) made the point in the coaches' meeting that if that had been the Jets game, just a mark difference in his ball security. You have to have that in this league. You turn the ball over as a quarterback, that's going to be the death nail for a game. You just can't do it. You can tell he's made a conscious effort of just having better awareness. There have been a couple examples of him getting out of pocket where he's actually peeked behind him, where earlier in the year he got caught – I forgot what game it was – but a guy got him from behind and the ball came out. I just think he has a better sense of 'I can go ahead and get out, but I have to make sure. Where are my nearest threats?''

On if it is bothersome that Manziel put the ball in his left hand when he scrambles:
"As long as he doesn't lose it and as long as he's not trying to throw it left handed, unless he's trying to find a way to get rid of it. We want the ball secure. I know there are sometimes you're going to your left and you feel you have a threat coming to your right that you have to get the ball. One thing, he does have strong hands, but no, we want all of our quarterbacks to have great ball security."

On preparing for Thomas as an opposing defensive coordinator:
"He's the type of player, and I was around (former Ravens OL Jonathan) Ogden in Baltimore for a long time, that sometimes you get to the point where you just feel like you're banging your head into a stump. You try to minimize his… Do you put your best pass rusher over there in the event that he's going to get canceled by that guy? Sometimes you just put a guy over there to have him occupy Joe. He's one of those tackles. You're always looking for the mismatch. It's not often you would look at our lineup offensive line wise and say we have a big advantage of our pass rusher verses Joe. You always try to find, when you're evaluating offensive linemen you'll make a cutup of the tapes when defensive linemen ran games against them, what games do they have issues with? Joe has seen it all, whether it's the end going first, the tackle going first. All of those games, he's seen them all so it's very difficult to scheme against him. You're almost better off saying, 'We'll trade one for one over there. Let's see if we can find a better matchup somewhere else.'"

On Browns players' recent comments against potential coaching changes:
"It's good to hear, but as a coaching staff, you hope that you're running a program that the players enjoy being in and they respect the men that they work for. When you hear comments like that, it reinforces that, but at the same time, we all know that – I've said it a million times – it's a bottom line business, pass or fail. Unfortunately, we've failed more than we've passed. We also feel that we've planted some seeds for growth here, but as I stress to the players all the time, control the controllables. For us as a coaching staff, we're going to prepare like heck to get our team ready for Kansas City and next week for Pittsburgh. We're going to coach our butts off, and hopefully, we can get our guys the same preparing hard, practicing hard, playing hard. As I said before, whatever happens, happens. To answer your question, it's good to hear, but we're still pressing forward for two more weeks."

On if Manziel's comments against coaching changes means more as it shows his support, even after he was benched:
"I think it just reinforces what I have said all along: from a personal standpoint, he and I get along very well. If you just eliminate that incident where I felt like I was doing my job and doing what was best for the team and doing what was best for him – hopefully, he respects that, but I also know from an interaction standpoint, that when he is here I have a ton of respect for him because of A) what he has gone through personally and B) how he has earned the respect of the guys around him. We all know what he did, but at the same time the players, when you hear other players come out and support him, it is because they see it. They see him ultra-prepared. They see him seamlessly calling plays in the huddle and getting guys lined up and knowing where to go with the ball and doing his job. There is no substitute for hard work to get to that point. He has put it in and has done it. From a coaching staff standpoint, the football trust is there. We all know about the hiccup, but the football trust is there. It is not surprising. I have said it up here: he and I have a very good relationship. Kevin O'Connell and (offensive coordinator) John DeFilippo, it is all very positive with the quarterback room. I would be surprised if that wasn't a two-way street."

On WR Andrew Hawkins being placed on IR with a concussion and his future whereas DB Joe Haden stated he was expected to return when placed on IR:
"I know it is a tricky subject. Anytime you have a concussion that lingers for as long as (DB) Joe's (Haden) did and Hawk's did, you are going to be ultra-cautious with it. I know Hawk sought out a second opinion, as he should. I know he will get re-evaluated in a period of time. We wanted him to take a little bit more time and then go back. I won't go into the details, but hopefully, at some point, we can make that same statement with Hawk. It is nothing that you ever want to risk. We will always take the very conservative route, as we should, with situations like this. It was great news with Joe to hear that because I know 2015 has been a struggle for him. It is tough for him to come in this building and know, as I said before, 'To who much is given, much is expected.' For him to be penciled in to have such a prominent role and then have the season not go the way that he wanted it to go and have that sense of I want to be out there and I feel like I am letting people down but I can't be, it has been frustrating. I don't think anyone is more frustrated than those two guys because they are both competitors and they both want to be out there."

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