Austin Hooper Conference Call

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Rob McBurnett

Senior Manager, Communications

TE Austin Hooper:

On what he offers the Browns and why he chose Cleveland:

“I am really excited to be here. (Head) Coach (Kevin) Stefanski, I have been around some players who have been around him in the past and have nothing but great things to say. From a leadership perspective, that was something that really interested me from the beginning once I heard he was taking over as the head man. Not only that, but just take a look at the talented roster. It is just on paper one of the most talented entities in all of football. Just take a look, especially on the offensive side of the ball, at the guys on the perimeter with (WRs) Odell (Beckham) and Jarvis (Landry), having a talented quarterback like Baker (Mayfield), having a talented tight end like David Njoku and having some really good O linemen. To add that with a pair of really talented running backs just on the offensive side of the football is just way too exciting of an opportunity to pass it up.”

On if he was with former Browns TE Gary Barnidge during his American Football Without Barriers camp trip when free agency progressed:

“Yeah, I was part of Gary Barnidge’s Foundation. Every year, we pick a different spot around the world, do some charity work and put on camps for kids. It was (former Browns TE) Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge – two Browns tight ends at the time and now three. It was good being overseas with them for a week. I kind of had an idea of places I wanted to go. The legal tampering period occurred, and I was actually able to talk to teams. One of the teams they both were talking about in a very positive way was Cleveland, just speaking about the fan base and the city itself. They sold the idea to me before legal tampering even occurred. By the time the Browns and I were actually able to speak for the first time, which was the first day of legal tampering period, it was kind of already playing into my mind as a potential spot I really wanted to go and I am really excited.”

On where the AFWB camps were held:

“Budapest, Hungary.”

On what Barnidge and Cameron said to help convince him that Cleveland was a good destination beyond the talent on the roster:

“The fan base. The fan base and the culture. That was what they preached the most. They said how much they enjoyed their time playing there. Obviously, they would have liked to win a couple more games throughout their time there, but they said that the fan base and the city is just so fully immersed in the Cleveland Browns and they are so tied into the Cleveland Browns. From what they said to me, it is just a unique experience. Barnidge came from the Panthers obviously so he has seen how the NFC South is, and Jordan after his time in Cleveland went down to Miami. Both of those guys see how the fan bases are different wherever you go. Both of them without me even trying to sway them one way or another, both of them were like, ‘Yeah, that was by far the best football experience from a fan and a community perspective.’ That was something that really stood out to me because I feel like a lot of time the fans forget that the players are people. It sounds kind of weird, but from what those two guys have told me, there is actually less of a disconnect than other places. It is something that may seem trivial to some, but to a player like that, that speaks volumes.”

On how will he and Njoku work together in certain formations:

“No idea. When this whole situation comes to pass, I will get to know David a lot better. I will get to understand my role within the offense a lot better and see how we both can play off each other and how we both can complement each other. A good question, I just do not have an answer for you at this point in time.”

On if it was a difficult process getting a physical and signing due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic:

“Very unique. I would not say super difficult. Definitely weird. There is obviously nothing in our young country’s history that we have had. Thank God, nothing like this to deal with in the past. It is new for everyone. This was a new process. Most of the time in my world, I have questions and I go to my agent, and my agent falls back on his decades of experience. This is a new experience for everyone involved. It was interesting, I would say. I would not say difficult. It was obviously incredibly unique is what I would say.”

On if he went to an independent doctor near his location for the physical and that process:

“It was good. I just waited for the doctor to get out of surgery. The Browns sent over a bunch of paperwork, and then the doctor and I just went over everything. Knock on wood, I have been pretty healthy throughout my career so it was only like a 10-minute physical. Yeah, all positive. Just a different protocol than what I am used to.”

On if he had any trouble returning from Budapest:

“We were one of the last flights out of Amsterdam. If you want to get to Budapest on the airline we chose, you have to fly through Amsterdam to connect. We were actually one of the last planes to get out of Amsterdam.”

On if he had any anxiety about potentially being stuck overseas:

“No question because while we over here thinking this is the common cold or something, people in Europe, it was a very escalated situation already over there. It kind of prepped us for I guess what was going to come. It was a very unique situation, I will say that.”

On when he returned from the AFWB camp trip:

“Three weeks ago.”

On if he has spoken with Mayfield:

“Yeah, after I made my decision, I gave him a call. We had a nice phone call. Just really trying to get to know the guy. We didn’t really talk about football too much. I was just trying to get a feel for him and vice versa since we will be working together. It was a productive phone call.”

On the Browns’ potential success using 12 personnel with both him and Njoku on the field together:

“Because more tight ends are on the field, baby – that is all you need to know (laughter). Of course, I a pro tight end. What it really does is it creates matchup problems. Really every defense in the NFL runs nickel, meaning five DBs on the field. If you have 12 on the field and they go nickel, the general rule of thumb is they don’t have enough big guys to compete so you run the ball. If they go bigger, generally a less athletic linebacker out there compared to a slot-corner, then you throw the ball and you have more advantageous matchups in the passing game. That has kind of been the historical advantages of 12. You can kind of sit back, see what the defense does, have a couple options when you go to the line of scrimmage and analyze matchups. That is all the game of football is – matchups.”

On today feeling like a golden era for TEs:

“It is definitely more cool to play tight end now. I remember almost a decade ago when (former Seahawks and 49ers CB) Richard Sherman was talking trash after the game. ‘Don’t open your mouth about me.’ I remember after that, everyone wanted to play corner. Do you remember that? Kids in my generation in high school wanted to really start playing DB after that. That kind of happened with Gronk (former Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski), where now it is sexy to play tight end. You know what I mean? It is kind of weird. It has been good. There are definitely more people who understand the position than they used to. I am confident in saying that. It is good to see the tight end position finally getting some love.”

On TEs who he watched growing up and developing as a TE, in addition to Gronkowski:

“The guys who I grew up watching were Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez, but the guys I learned from the most since I have been in the NFL have been (Chiefs TE) Travis Kelce, (free agent TE) Jordan Reed and (Eagles TE) Zach Ertz, specifically from Zach off of the top of his routes. Travis is very good at the line of scrimmage in terms of the way he moves his body, and Jordan can do a little bit of all of that stuff. Those are three guys I would watch when I first came into the league. Gronk is great, but a lot of things Gronk does you have to be 6-6, 270 to do. I would watch guys who are more technical than just freak athletes, if that makes sense.”

On his mentality following his injury last season:

“I was on pace right before I got hit low to pass 1,000 yards last year so that was the ultimate goal for me. Being a mid-round draft pick, being a guy who didn’t really become a full-time starter until his second year and then every year in the league, just trying to get better, I feel like that’s just my whole goal overall. Sophomore season in Atlanta was like 500 yards. Third year was under 700. This past year with less than three games left, I was under 800. My goal always is just to improve. I pride myself on being pretty consistent so I just want to keep grinding throughout the offseason and come back next year and just continue to get better. That is my mentality.”

On being a dual-threat tight end and balancing his work on blocking and catching:

“The run game is more about attitude. At the end of the day, your 40 pounds less than the guys you are going against. You can get bigger, but if I get bigger, I won’t be as effective in the passing game. I am obviously not going to be able to run as well if I put on 20 pounds. I have to stay in that 249-255 range that Coach Stefanski and I were talking about. Being at that weight, most of the run game is about attitude. That is just about are you willing to do it? The best athlete on the field is the highest paid guy on the defense and those guys on the edges. My thing is it is all mental. Do you want it or do you not want it? It sounds kind of lame, but that is what it really is. You are not going to be stronger than those guys, but are you willing to fight? That is really all it is. In terms of the pass game, that is where I work more because in my opinion, it is a lot more technical in terms of the way you have to set up people, and then you have to remember the moves you use on people in the pass because route running is kind of like being a pass rusher on the defense and you have to remember what moves you put on the offensive tackle whose job is to basically be like a DB on the pass rush. All football is the same. In route running, I have to remember what moves I use on people, time it up, who got the most separation at the end of a point in space I want to be. If you are asking me which one I focus on more, I definitely in the offseason focus on the route running because the run game again in my opinion is just more attitude than anything.”

On lessons he may still use from his time in Atlanta with 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan:

“Absolutely, he kind of laid the foundation of my football education in a sense. There are innumerable things that I learned from him. Better study habits in terms of like before I used to just watch but not really know what the hell I was supposed to be watching for; I would see the whole picture instead of focusing on what I need to be doing. I think Kyle was great for me in the sense of he taught me how to be a better professional in terms of how to study, how to take notes and how to be a consummate professional. There were a lot of great things that he taught me in terms of the outside zone scheme, route running fundamentals and things like that, but the foundation he laid for me of just being a professional, I think, stands above all of those.”

On how much teams’ QBs played a factor into how he weighed options in free agency:

“No question, being in a position that is dependent upon getting balls from the quarterback, it was definitely a part of the process for me. Playing against Baker Mayfield live, seeing his arm and seeing his competitive spirit and the way he rallies the guys around him, that is what sold me on him before I was obviously a free agent. This was two seasons ago now when we came up to Cleveland. I knew what he was about for a couple of years now so when the opportunity presented itself on the first day of legal tampering, I couldn’t turn it down.”

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