During this time last year, Kevin Stefanski was fully absorbed in curating an offensive playbook that would dictate one of the biggest questions he faced in his first season as the Browns' head coach: Can he elevate the talented offensive weapons to a dominant level in 2020?
The answer was a resounding yes. Cleveland stacked one of its most successful offensive seasons in franchise history and nearly every player found a way to contribute and help end the franchise's 18-year playoff drought.
Now, Stefanski is going back to work on improving the offense, a task that will require just as much work as his playbook creation duties one year ago.
"We have to, as coaches, really pull this thing apart and find ways to improve schematically," he said Tuesday in a video call with local reporters. "We have to evolve, and I think that has been a big part of our process to date. I think also, as coaches, we have to get better. I have to be a better coach next year for this team and that is my goal."
Sure, the Browns aren't starting from scratch with their offense, which quarterback Baker Mayfield will certainly embrace — 2021 will be his first offseason that won't require him to build a bond with a new head coach. Other players will be thankful for the continuity, too, as their trust with their head coach shined throughout the triumphs of the 2020 season.
Stefanski, however, will go to work to ensure the offense will have plenty of new looks and play designs to keep defenses guessing. The play-action schemes that elevated Mayfield's performance will need to be fine-tuned with new routes and looks at the line of scrimmage. Any new players will have to adjust to the play calls and designs and get on the same page as returning players. Stefanski will determine which plays from 2020 stick into next season, and which new plays he might opt to add to the playbook.
The foundation the Browns touted during and after their playoff run is set. But to keep building in 2021, they'll be implementing several offensive adjustments with the goal of becoming an even more overpowering unit.
"We want to make sure that we're exploring all those avenues that stick true to who we are, but also allow our guys to grow in this scheme and just find ways to be explosive on offense," Stefanski said. "We've talked long and hard as an offensive coaching staff about how we want to have our core, but we've got to make sure that we're pivoting week in and week out."
How will some of those adjustments look?
We won't know for sure until the first few weeks of the regular season, but Stefanski guaranteed he'll have areas of improvement outlined for each segment of the offense when the team reconvenes for the first time following free agency and the draft. Stefanski isn't limiting that work to just players, either. Coaches will be included and required to find ways to improve next season, and that includes himself.
One way he and other coaches are making that happen is by diving into tape. Not just Browns tape, but tape from all levels of football.
"I make no bones about it, we will steal from everybody if it's a good idea," he said with a smile. "I think what we're trying to do is fine tune and hone in on the things that we're good at. We're watching a lot of tape. We're watching NFL players, and we're watching college tape. If we think it might help us, we'll definitely make it part of our offense."
Stefanski knows there's no room for complacency when it comes to building on success. That'll be one of his biggest messages when he's back to speaking in front of the team in the coming months and relaying the changes he's envisioned for Year 2.
For the offense, that work will be composed of small tweaks in personnel and the playbook that could lead the Browns back to the playoffs. The unit won't be starting from scratch, but Stefanski has guaranteed a full plate of offseason work for everyone involved.
"It's really, really important that everybody in this building and all of our players understand that we have to get better," he said. "To say that we're going to be right back where we left off, that's not the case. It just doesn't happen that way. We've got to work at it."
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