GM Andrew Berry Discusses the Team Returning To Berea

Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry:

Opening statement:

“Hi, everyone. It is good to see you. I hope you guys are all staying safe.

“Before we jump into everything, I actually want to take a little bit of time just to acknowledge (Cleveland TV/media legend) Dick Goddard’s passing today. Dick was a statistician for 43 years with our radio team. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but I wanted to extend condolences to his family on behalf of the Browns organization.

“Training camp, we are excited to get our players and our staff back into the building in what has been a very eventful spring and summer. We are very thankful for all the work that Joe Sheehan, our Senior VP of Player Health and [Development], (Chief Human Resources Officer) Mike Nikolaus, who heads HR and our facilities team – (Director of Berea Facilities) Matt Srodek and (Coordinator of Berea Facilities) Chris Cola. All of the things that they have done over the past few months to make our facility as safe as possible for the return of our players during this time, they have done a phenomenal job of really increasing the player footprint within the facilities to create an environment that is pretty significant to keeping them, their families, our coaches and our support staff healthy. We all understand that there is a shared responsibility in this thing over the next several months as we enter training camp and through the season, and we are excited to attack that challenge. Also, I want to just kind of acknowledge everything (Head Coach) Kevin (Stefanski) has done to lead our coaches and staff. The coaching staff has been phenomenal through the virtual offseason programming, into the summer and then obviously into these early days of training camp. We are just excited to have our guys back on campus, so to speak. It has been a long time coming, and we are looking forward to getting to work.”

On if the Browns expect any more players to opt out of the season, following DT Andrew Billings’ announcement today:

“The players have until Thursday afternoon really to make that decision. For all those guys, it is deeply personal and an individual choice. We will know at that time if there are more guys, but suffice it to say, organizationally, we support all those guys. We understand that it is a difficult decision, and again, it is very, very personal. We support the three guys who have opted out so far, and I look forward to them being back with the team next year.”

On how players opting out and the salary cap relief impact the team’s ability to sign other players:

“Part of it is when the player opts out, their contract tolls. Even though there may be some relief this year, that does apply into the following season. It is more a little bit of like a shift in the accounting, so to speak. Really, the two years we have been in conjunction with one another, but again, it does allow us a little bit of flexibility this year.”

On the process of players being designated as Reserve/COVID-19 and the team’s reaction to the number of players who have received that designation to date:

“We are very pleased with how the process has gone so far. I think it is a credit to the league, it is a credit to the [NFL]PA, it is a credit to our medical staff, and the BioReference lab that is conducting all the testing for us. I think it all has gone very, very smoothly. Obviously, this is something for all 32 teams where we learn more every day and really every week, but I think we have done a really nice job here of creating an environment that can be as safe as possible for our players and staff.”

On if he believes the COVID-19 processes and protocols in place experienced thus far offer hope that training camp and the season can proceed:

“I do. I think that between the league, the [NFL]PA and then really what we have done here, we are doing everything we can to give ourselves the best chance possible to have a very successful season, and most importantly, keep players, coaches, support staff and their families safe.”

On players expressing concern this offseason about playing during the pandemic and what potentially made players feel more comfortable now about playing compared to a month ago:

“I think the feedback has been largely positive. I think it is tough until you get in some of these NFL buildings and until you see how stringent and how strict and detailed the protocols are, not just within the facilities but for things that will come down the line, whether it is travel, hotels or busing, you name it. That is kind of hard to visualize in call it April, May or early June. Again, it really is a credit to the league, the [NFL]PA and the individual clubs in terms of how much work – the doctors, forgive me for forgetting to mention those guys off the top – and everything that has been put into this to give ourselves the best chance to have a successful season. There has been a ton of thought, a ton of detail, a ton of work put into it so we are all very grateful for a number of individuals who have done that.”

On making roster moves when taking into consideration player opt outs, Reserve/COVID-19 designations, limitations for tryouts and in-person visits during the offseason and other measures in place:

“I don’t think those mechanics have changed too much in terms of our process for evaluating players who are available externally. I think the logistics are a little bit different than we have seen them in prior years, whether it is travel or the different phases of the testing protocols if we were to bring in players who are not currently on the roster. Obviously, there are a lot more restrictions regarding tryouts if we were to bring players in for a tryout. On the whole, it is not such that it fundamentally changes the operation. It may slow down a few aspects of it, but we are still able to do our jobs within the personnel department to look to upgrade the roster.”

On QB Garrett Gilbert being placed on Reserve/COVID-19 list and if there are concerns that he had been in close contact with other players in the building:

“I will again give credit to Kevin and our medical staff in terms of how thoughtful they have been and in terms of the planning, specifically during this critical first 14 days as we form our bubble, so to speak. Really, all of our meetings have been virtual up until this point. With the facility redesign, when our guys really do come back into the building for meetings and various activities, everything is really, really well spaced out and everything is really, really well done to make sure that guys are social distanced and safe and we would prevent really any issues inside the facilities.” 

On the New Orleans Saints’ creating a ‘bubble-like training camp’ with staff at a designated hotel and if the Browns would consider a similar approach:

“I did not see the report or what they are doing so I can’t comment on that, unfortunately.” 

On the process for scouting college football this season, given uncertainties at the college level:

“Right now, there is a fair amount of work in the summer that we typically do that can already be executed by our scouts largely through film work. We are still a few weeks away in terms of really having to execute anything travel related. We have talked through and planned through a number of contingencies, but the reality of it is that all of us want certainty and we are creatures of habit, and that is not something that we have at this point in time. There are still a fair amount of unknowns with different colleges within college football – some are moving to the spring and then schools are still working through restrictions as it pertains to NFL scouts. It is just something that for us, our theme has been flexibility and adaptation, and we have to be able to pivot as we get more information. We do have a number of contingencies in place. We are really focused on the things that we can control at this point in time. As we get more information, we will make more definitive decisions in that regard.” 

On WR Odell Beckham Jr.’s comments during the offseason about his concerns for the season and life as it relates to football during the pandemic:

“Having a player of Odell’s stature on the roster, obviously, he generates a lot of attention. Odell is very mindful that he has to be conscientious with his words. That being said, we have had plenty of dialogue and conversation with Odell, not only just through the summer but certainly as he has returned to Cleveland, and that has been a positive thing. We feel really good about everything that the league and the [NFL]PA have agreed upon and everything that we have done in Cleveland. I would say in terms of Odell, he has returned and really been focused on working hard. He has been very engaged in everything that we have done in the classroom. He is really focused on having a great year.” 

On the impact of Billings opting out and the rotation on the DL:

“(Akron Beacon Journal beat writer) Nate (Ulrich), before I even answer your question, I actually just wanted to say I saw your Instagram post, and I wanted to say thank you for being part of our #BeTheSolution campaign. I thought your reflection was outstanding. I wanted to thank you for that first.

“In terms of Andrew, we believe in having depth along the defensive line. We think that we have a number of guys who are really talented players. We have added a number over the course of the spring. It really is going to be a next man up mentality. It is no different than if you are dealing with an injury in season. We have some younger players that will push for more playing time so we are excited about that. We are excited about the guys that we have internally. Hate to lose Andrew, but certainly understand and are 100 percent supportive of his decision.” 

On the response to the team’s #BeTheSolution campaign and if the team has discussed next steps on engaging in social justice efforts now that players and coaches are back in the building:

“The response has really been fantastic within the Cleveland community and then certainly organizationally. The topic of social justice has been something that has been a pretty consistent theme really since the spring. That is a credit to the organization, that is a credit to Kevin and that is a credit to our guys. It is something that we have talked about multiple times since training camp has begun. We feel really good about where we are as an organization and some of things that we are talking about to continue to do with our players, with our staff and with our coaches. It is something that has really been at the forefront of our minds, even as we have entered camp.” 

On examples of the team’s additional safety precautions once practices begin, in addition to recent virtual meetings, referencing MLB players not being able to shower at their ballparks:

“I think there may be a couple of things. No. 1, specifically the issue of physical distancing over the course of the day as guys get into the more physical portions of camp, again, it is really hats off to our facilities team in terms of the extra space they have created for some of those daily activities, whether it is the locker room, shower facilities or meal facilities, you name it. I think the second piece is honestly just scheduling. The scheduling for this training camp and what Kevin has done in that regard has really been remarkable because it is not the same. It can’t be the same as your typical NFL training camp in terms of how you manage people not only in and out of the building but in certain areas of the building. To your point, lunch looks different. Usually, you get off of the practice field or you get out of meetings, you go to lunch and all of the guys go to the cafeteria. That is not something that is feasible in the current environment. Even something like that has to be scheduled to a T. I will tell you, our head coach, he is super detailed, super organized and leaves no stone unturned in that regard. I am sure there are going to be things that we are going to continue to learn as we go through this thing, but I think we have a really good plan in place once the guys hit the practice field.”

On if he has been impressed with the organization’s creativity, flexibility and adaptability:

“For sure. ‘Necessity breeds ingenuity and creativity.’ I can’t quite remember the exact quote, but truer words have not been spoken. I think that is something that we have seen and have been very, very proud of organizationally over the past five or six months.”

On his discussions with TE David Njoku, who stated he wants to stay in Cleveland after requesting a trade earlier this offseason:

“I will not go into necessarily the specifics of the conversation that I had with David, but what I can tell you with David, really even since the spring and definitely since he has been back, he has been very engaged with our coaching staff and our performance staff. He has shown up in terrific shape. I do think that there is an element with getting back around your teammates, your coaches and the excitement of training camp. We have been very consistent that we think David can be a big part of where we are trying to go as a team this year and that we think he has an important role to play for this roster and for this team. We are looking forward to working with David. I think he can have a fantastic year.”

On if he was surprised Njoku requested a trade earlier this offseason:

“I will be honest, yes, a little bit. I guess you learn not to be surprised about anything. He communicated well through it. He worked through it professionally. We had good communication with his representation. We think we are in a pretty good place right now.”

On the Browns’ policies and communication with players and staff about behavior outside of the building:

“What we have talked a lot about and what Kevin has really emphasized really on a daily basis is the concept of shared responsibility. This year, more than any other, we are not only responsible for our actions and behaviors in the building but as you mentioned when we are away from the facilities. The consequences of our actions and behaviors, it is not just our players, right? It is our support staff, coaching staff, front office and everybody who is in this bubble throughout the year. What we do can impact not just people in the building but players’, coaches’ and staff’s families, as well. Taking that seriously and understanding that it is something we are going to have to be focused on every day, I think Kevin has done a really nice job of consistently reiterating that message on a daily basis.”  

On evaluating rosters this year with a different training camp structure and no preseason games:

“It will be a little bit different on the pro side. I think we will have plenty of opportunity to evaluate our own roster. We will have plenty of practices. I know we are starting a little bit later than normal, but we will have plenty of practices to see all of our veterans, see all of our bubble guys and see all of our young guys. If you think about it in a normal year, it is nice to have those preseason games, but really, the majority of the evaluation process does come throughout those daily practices. Probably where the biggest challenge comes is as you evaluate other rosters externally. Now, we still do have plenty of information from whether it is veterans across the league and their pro career or younger players in terms of their college career. It is always nice to have those call it 80-100 snaps during the preseason, but I feel confident that we will be able to navigate that really well once we get closer to the cut-down date.”

On if the Browns may be likely to keep more veterans than rookies compared to a typical year, due to changes to the offseason, training camp and preseason this year:

“I think it is too early to say. It will really come down to how the guys perform over the next couple weeks. I think there are plenty of rookies that can hit the ground running, and they have a great opportunity in front of them to prove that they can catch up quickly. I don’t know that I would suggest that our roster is going to be more veteran heavy this year because of the circumstances.”

On his impressions of QB Baker Mayfield with players returning to the building:

“Baker has really been outstanding this entire spring and summer – level of engagement with the coaching staff, getting up to speed mentally with the system and his interaction with his teammates. He came back and added four pounds of lean mass, cut body fat and came back in terrific shape. I know he is really excited about the upcoming season, and he has done a really nice job of what I would call almost creating community and really bringing guys together, as difficult as that can be as everybody has really been trying to function virtually. We are all really excited about him entering the year.”

On the Browns committing to DE Myles Garrett long term now with his recent contract extension, given there may be some uncertainty to how Garrett will respond after returning from suspension:

“For Myles, I feel fortunate to come in where I had two years’ worth of scouting Myles at Texas A&M, was part of drafting him and a number of years with him in the building. Obviously, I left for Philly for a year and came back. I really feel very comfortable with Myles both the player and the person, understanding that he made a mistake last year. In terms of what he does on the field, in terms of what he does while he is in our building and in terms of what he does in the community, just feel great about the player and the person. For us to have an opportunity to have him under contract for the next seven years, we thought that was really a great opportunity for our organization, and obviously, it gives him long-term security, as well. For me, I felt like we really had enough information to know how he was going to respond.”

On the significance of reaching a new contract with DE Olivier Vernon and pairing him with Garrett:

“We feel good about really both of our bookends. We think that Myles and OV can be a really strong duo for us this upcoming season. Obviously, we want to make sure that OV stays healthy and stays on the field. We think that we can be tough to block up front when those two guys are really going.”

On meeting Vice President of Football Operations Kwesi Adofo-Mensah at the combine, their relationship and bringing Adofo-Mensah to the Browns staff:

“I had heard about him. We had both worked with an individual at separate stops and so we kind of knew of one another. We were both actually headed up to the suites for one of the [combine] workouts in the downstairs elevator bank heading up to the suites, and he just introduced himself. From there, we just kind of struck up a conversation. Really from that point, we kept in touch. We would talk ball. We would talk personal life. We would talk organizational philosophy. When I left to go to Philly, with his family out in that area, whenever he would travel back, we would spend time together. It was really just kind of building that relationship over time and understanding that you had shared values, whether it was from a personal standpoint or a football standpoint. Having the opportunity to bring him here, it really kind of felt like a no-brainer.”

(Transcript courtesy of Rob McBurnett, Senior Manager of Communications for the Cleveland Browns)

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