| Akron Beacon Journal
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Monday he expects his entire coaching staff to return next season and praised them for how they coped with the challenges of the pandemic.
The installation of new systems had to be done virtually and eventually all meetings were held remotely. Late in the season several players and coaches, including Stefanski and five assistants, landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer served as acting coach and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt called the plays for the Jan. 10 AFC wild-card game at Pittsburgh. Chief of staff Callie Brownson also filled in as an assistant, first on Nov. 29 when tight ends coach Drew Petzing’s wife had a baby, and again in the playoff game against the Steelers.
“I do expect the coaching staff back next season,” Stefanski said on Zoom. “Really proud of this group. They worked very, very hard in some tough circumstances. People stepped up when some of us were out.
“Really, I loved the way our group worked together and were very much trying to solve problems in the season as they came about.”
Stefanski said the coaches will work this week to “button up the season,” then will have next week off.
“I hope they all go for the fresh. All of the players and all of the coaches, I do want them to reconnect with their families,” Stefanski said. “It has been a challenging year for all of us and people that have family in other parts of the country, they are traveling and need to go reconnect. Obviously, I want everybody to stay safe while doing it.”
Delpit, Williams expected back
The Browns saw two of their top defensive backs miss the entire season after the second-round picks from Louisiana State were hurt in the same Aug. 24 training camp practice. Rookie Safety Grant Delpit ruptured his Achilles and cornerback Greedy Williams, drafted in 2019, suffered nerve damage in his shoulder during a tackling drill.
Stefanski said he expects both on the field when training camp opens.
“Of course, I expect them to both be back. I’m excited about both of those guys,” Stefanski said. “Unfortunate injuries. They are going to continue to rehab and work through those injuries. That’s the exciting part for us, to get some of those guys back next season.”
Jedrick Wills’ injury not serious
Rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills was sidelined with an ankle injury on the first offensive play in Sunday’s 22-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in an AFC divisional playoff at Arrowhead Stadium.
Stefanski said the injury was not serious and would require only a couple weeks of rehab.
Center JC Tretter predicted a great future for Wills, a right tackle at Alabama and in high school.
“I think Jed has all of the tools to be a really talented player in this league,” Tretter said on Zoom. “He changed positions from college to the pros with not a lot of time to ramp up into that position. I think he did really well this year.
“A full offseason or whatever we are going to have this year and another year of practice, preparation and learning under his belt, I expect definite improvements next year. I think that’s what you expect out of a young, talented player like Jed.”
Texting with Odell Beckham Jr.
Star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was not with the team down the stretch after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Oct. 25, but Stefanski has kept in touch.
“I texted with him this morning,” Stefanski said. “I know he’s working really hard to get better in his rehab. I’m excited to get him back here.
“I know it wasn’t easy for him being away from his teammates, especially as these games got bigger and into the playoffs. I know he definitely wanted to be a part of it.”
Beckham was rooting for the Browns from afar, tweeting Sunday night, “My heart aches on that one….”
Combine changes format
Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reported the league informed teams of a new format for the 2021 Scouting Combine.
There will be no in-person workouts, which have been held in Indianapolis since 1987, with those conducted during campus pro days. Team interviews and psychological testing will be virtual. In-person medical exams will be limited to a certain number of prospects and likely held in early April, with the rest conducted near the prospect’s permanent or temporary residence.
“I would anticipate a lot of it is virtual and having some meetings with players like this [on Zoom], but I don’t know when that is and necessarily how that will occur,” Stefanski said before the report came out. “We found a way last offseason to do a lot of this virtually and might have to do the same. We trust [General Manager] Andrew [Berry] and our personnel staff to gather all of that information, watch the tape and then go from there.”
Kevin Stefanski thanks fans
A group of fans greeted the Browns Sunday night when they landed at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, and Stefanski said he longs for the days when FirstEnergy Stadium is full again.
“Our fans are incredible. It’s something that people told me about, and I got to experience it this season in a different way,” Stefanski said. “I can’t wait to experience it with 67,000 strong in FirstEnergy next season. An incredible fan base here in the city, in Northeast Ohio and around the world. I have heard from a bunch of them. We appreciate their support. I wish we were still playing football for them.”
David Njoku’s strong finish
Although the Browns picked up the fifth-year option on tight end David Njoku’s contract for 2021, his commitment has been in question since he asked for a trade last summer.
Njoku came on strong down the stretch, recording 10 of his 19 receptions and 106 of his 213 yards in the final four regular-season games. In the playoffs, he contributed five receptions for 66 yards, four for 59 yards against the Chiefs.
“David played well, especially late in this season as he got healthy,” Stefanski said. “He dealt with a couple injuries there, but he provided us great value on the line of scrimmage and in the pass game. He did a really nice job for us.”
PFWA honors three
Left guard Joel Bitonio, right tackle Jack Conklin and defensive end Myles Garrett were named All-NFL in voting by the Professional Football Writers of America.
The Browns and Indianapolis Colts each had three honorees, trailing only the Green Bay Packers with four.
The PFWA’s All-AFC team also included Browns running back Nick Chubb.
The Browns signed safety Elijah Benton, receivers Ja’Marcus Bradley and Derrick Willies, tight ends Jordan Franks and Kyle Markway, cornerback A.J. Green, guard Cordel Iwuagwu, quarterback Kyle Lauletta, defensive end Cameron Malveaux, kicker Matt McCrane, linebacker Montrel Meander, center Javon Patterson, fullback Johnny Stanton and tackle Alex Taylor to the reserve/futures list.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at [email protected] Read more about the Browns at www.beaconjournal.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.