Browns transcripts -- Friday, Jan. 8, 2021

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Rob McBurnett

Director, Community & Corporate Communications

Head Coach Kevin Stefanski:

Opening statement: 

“Injury front wise, (WR) Donovan Peoples-Jones will be back out there today having cleared the (concussion) protocols. We will not have (T) Jack Conklin out there due to illness and (CB) Terrence Mitchell – not injury related.

“On the COVID front, getting (S Andrew) Sendejo and (LB) B.J. Goodson back, as well as (S) Elijah Benton on the practice squad. Coach-wise, (pass game coordinator/wide receivers coach) Chad O’Shea will be back out there today. For the game, similar to last week, (coaching assistant) Ryan Cordell will handle the offensive line, (Chief of Staff) Callie Brownson will handle the tight ends and (assistant defensive backs coach) Brandon Lynch will handle the defensive backs. As you know, (special teams coordinator) Coach (Mike) Priefer will handle the head coaching duties.

“Worked hard with the league office, (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager) Andrew Berry and (Senior Vice President of Player Health and Development) Joe Sheehan in making sure we could get out there safely today. After some discussion, it was agreed upon to get out there and get some work in, but again, safety being the No. 1 priority. That is what is going on right now. Over at the facility, they will have a walkthrough into practice and then get some good work in ahead of this game on Sunday.”

On the format of today’s practice, given missed time earlier this week: 

“Similar to last week where we got out on the field briefly Wednesday, nothing on Thursday and then really we had a Friday-plus so that is kind of how we will treat today. We will have a Friday practice, add a couple periods and added a walkthrough. We have spent a lot of time on Zoom so had a lot of virtual work, and now, we will be able to get some physical work out there today.”

On if there is a sense of relief to be able to practice today: 

“Yeah, I think the players and the coaches always like to be out on the grass with the guys. That is much better than being on these Zoom calls. I think they are excited to get out there.”

On if DE Myles Garrett and DT Sheldon Richardson are expected to play on Sunday: 

“I am confident about those two guys. Without us putting our eyes on some of these guys, that is kind of where we have to get through this practice and see them, but those two in particular, I am confident about.”

On the team’s travel plans: 

“We are going to leave Saturday. We are going to fly.

On if Conklin not practicing today with an illness raises a bit of a concern and how COVID-19 protocols impact Conklin’s status: 

“We will just follow the protocols. You are right, in this day and age you have an illness, and you have to be safe with that, but we will just make sure we follow the protocols.”

On if Conklin’s situation is similar to what WR Odell Beckham Jr. and Garrett experienced earlier in the season: 

“I can’t speak to that, no.”

On Conklin and Garrett being named Associated Press First-Team All-Pros: 

“It is outstanding. Like we talk about, I always want our guys to get individual accolades. I think it speaks ultimately to the team, but I am proud of those guys. I think they are more than deserving so that is always something that I am looking forward to all of those guys being recognized because it is important. Those two in particular I think would tell you it is definitely within the framework of the team’s success.”

On what the biggest challenge will be for Priefer in terms of the gameday situations: 

“Our staff for the entire season has done a great job of communicating. Offense, defense and special teams, that sideline, I pride myself and we pride ourselves on being able to think and communicate clearly. I do not that changing at all. Coach Prief understands what needs to occur and things that have to happen on gameday, and that is really the entire coaching staff understanding how we operate and how we communicate does not change.”

On if Saturday will be a normal walkthrough and travel day, given changes to the practice schedule this week: 

“Very similar to last week. We might add a few walkthrough-type things but really will be a Saturday that the guys are familiar with.”

On if there is an update on any players or coaches who missed last week’s game due to COVID-19 protocols: 

“I do not have any updates on those guys.”

On when will be the last time he can talk to the team before Sunday’s game and if he can talk to the team in the locker room on Sunday: 

“I will address the team the night before the game like I normally do. Once it is game time and in that locker room, Coach Priefer will be serving that role. I have a ton of faith in him. The guys know the message. They do not need a Zoom call from me before the game to understand what they need to do.”

On if he has a sense for if Mitchell will be able to play on Sunday: 

“I do not have a sense, no.”

On the uncertainty at the CB position with Mitchell being listed as questionable and Ward and CB Kevin Johnson on the reserve/COVID-19 list: 

“Uncertainty has been the name of the game. We have plans, and we will adjust as need be.”

On if anyone on the reserve/COVID-19 list can be ruled out for Sunday: 

“I will just let the protocols be what they are. When you are on the list, you are on. When you are off, you are off.”

On if he will watch practice today live virtually:

“Yeah, there is a chance I will live watch it over Zoom, but I will not be radioing in any corrections. We will make the corrections on Saturday morning.”

On why the team is flying to Pittsburgh compared to the usual bus drive:

“I would just tell you any of those type of decisions lean heavily on the medical staff and experts.”

On if the decision to fly is COVID-19 related:


On his coaching philosophy to always include his assistants and players, given C JC Tretter’s comments that he frequently talks to the Browns OL about running schemes and plays that they like:

“The players have a pretty good sense on what is working. They have a front row seat so I try to lean on them as to what schemes they think have a chance. Anytime you can get input from guys like JC and all of the veteran guys who you trust, you can get a feel for what is working and what is not. There are certain blocking schemes that puts stress on certain guys, and if they have a good feel for what maybe will work or will not, I think that is important for our play calling.”

On if it is fair to say that Sunday will feel like ‘dropping his kids off at college,’ given offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt’s comments earlier in the week:

“I have never sent them off to college, but I also have never watched my team play from my basement. I can probably answer that better next week. I do think I have tried to make the point and I think the players and I know the coaches understand this, we have established who we are over the course of the season so the guys know that. They do not need me to remind them about any of that at this point.”

On how QB Baker Mayfield handled this week without practice thus far:

“He is locked in. Through these virtual meetings, he has done a great job. He always does on our calls. He fully understands the gameplan and understands the opponent. He is somebody who I have been very impressed to watch him work and watch him prepare. Obviously, different when you are talking about the virtual aspect of it, but I think it will be beneficial for him and all of the guys to get moving around today and get some of these wrinkles to this gameplan to get them physically worked through.”

On what a virtual walkthrough is like:

“It is nothing more than putting the cards up for practice. Taking the scout team card and put it on the screen. Alright, here is the look that you are getting. Offensive line talk through your call. Look at the coverage. What are maybe some of your adjustments that you are going to make on this route wide receiver? Alright, quarterback chime in. What is your read? Those type of things. It sounds cooler than it is.”

On Priefer and Van Pelt stating they would plan to channel him and the balance of doing that versus what they may naturally feel is best:

“I have talked to those guys and we will continue to talk over the next 48 hours. We have had 16 games to kind of establish the way we do things. This entire coaching staff has been a huge part of that and the way we operate, the way we call the game and those types of things. I do not see there being a huge deviation to what we have done the last 16 games because it is truly a collaborative group effort.”

On if he has an idea of what Sunday will be like for him:

“Once you get to gameday, those are long days waiting for those games to start. I am sure there will be some phone calls here or there, but by and large, a lot of the work is done. We will have a walkthrough Sunday morning at some point with offense and defense for each one to go over some of the finer points. Again, I can’t stress enough how much I trust the coaches we have and the players to do their jobs. It is not going to be me inserting myself into the gameplan on Sunday.”

On the decision for Cordell to coach the Browns OL this week:

“Ryan has been working with the offensive line since the spring, working closely with (offensive line coach) Bill (Callahan) and (assistant offensive line coach) Scott (Peters) so he knows how we operate. He does a lot of the run drawings. As somebody who has done run drawing in my past, that is one way to really understand the run game. He has worked in different schemes before so he knows what he is talking about and I think he has a good rapport with that offensive line.”

On the importance of having individuals like Cordell and Brownson who are versatile when building a coaching staff:

“I have said it before, you need utility players in a season like this, and that is where I am happy to have people like Ryan and Callie to step in in these moments.”

On G Michael Dunn and how important it is for Dunn to practice given he has not previously lined up with the first team:

“I think that is the benefit of getting on the field today is for players to get into different spots and have some of those communication things going on. Michael is like a lot of players, we may be counting on him Sunday so we trust in their preparation. He is somebody who is always on point in what we are doing, gives a great look and can fill in at multiple spots on the offensive line so versatility is key in a season like this.”

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DE Myles Garrett:

On today’s practice: 

“It was good. We needed at least a day under our belts to get everything refined and make sure we look sharp.”

On if there is a benefit to not practicing at this point of the season or if it is essential to be out there: 

“Essential to be out there every time. You have to be able to see how the looks are, how everything times up and see if it is as effective as you think it is on paper.”

On the team’s preparedness for Sunday following a unique schedule this week: 

“We still have another day to prepare. Today is not the last day of a preparation for us. We will still go into walkthrough tomorrow and the day after and make sure that we know everything we need pertaining to our roles and how we can be successful.”

On the team’s mindset heading into the game after facing adversity this week: 

“Just win. You can’t have any other mentality. Anybody can be beat. It does not matter who you have up. You are paid to be a performer, no matter where you sit on the depth chart – first or third. You are paid because you are one of the best in the world at your job, and you need to step up and show that.”

On facing the Steelers and Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger in the postseason: 

“It is a hell of a challenge. This is what we have all been looking forward to and I know I have been looking forward to it myself. The Steelers and the Browns have had history against each other so now, it is just up to us to step up to the plate. They have to show up and play just like we do. Nothing is being taken for granted and nothing is going to be given to them. Anything we get, we are going to have to take.”

On if Head Coach Kevin Stefanski and G Joel Bitonio being out can be a rallying cry to motive the team to rise to the occasion on Sunday: 

“Like Stefanski has always said to us, you do not rise to the occasion; you fall to the level of your preparation. The way we have prepared and gotten ourselves mentally ready, whether it is through Zoom or just working through it ourselves preparing at home physically on our own, it is just how you how you treat yourself and how you prepare as a pro. Nobody is going to sit here and tell you that we are counting ourselves out. These guys are hungry, and we are going to take it to them.”

On being named to the AP’s First-Team All-Pro: 

“It is nice, but we have bigger things in front of us. I could not have done it without the guys on the line with me and the seven behind me. I am hoping that we can continue to be successful together because that is the only way this was even possible.”

On what he believes his first playoff game will feel like: 

“It is going to be some excitement. It is going to be different from any other playoff game obviously because there are not many fans. It is going to be a weight off my shoulders really to finally get here. I am going to play like it is my last. It could be the very last opportunity I get. Not saying it will be because of our success, but you never know what is in your future. You never know what could happen in the world or to us individually or to our family. I am going to play like my hair is on fire and like I will never get another chance at it.”

On Steelers WR JuJu Smith Schuster’s comments yesterday about playing the Browns: 

“No comment.”

On if he will do anything differently when preparing for his first playoff game on Sunday:

“Big players make those kind of plays on that stage. I feel like we have a lot of big time players who have shown themselves throughout the season. I have no doubt that they will do it this game. They are going to show up and be flying around the field and making those plays that I know they can make.”

On if he is still doing breathing treatments and how close is he to being back to 100 percent:

“Today at practice, I felt pretty good. I felt like I was flying around and I was moving well, and you will be able to see it on Sunday that I look like I did at the beginning of the season.”

On if there are any surprises when playing a team for the third time in a season:

“You can always mix it up. You can always change things. You are going to throw the kitchen sick at them now. You have already had two cracks at each other. No one just gives their all at the beginning with the potential to see them again. We are going to give them everything we have on offense and defense.”

On how much would it mean if CB Denzel Ward is available on Sunday:

“He is a hell of a player. Guys do not like to throw it his way, and he makes plays whether they are running to his side or throwing to his side. He is a threat at any time. Glad to see him come back if we get them back and hoping he feels good and prepared to be on the field and answer the bell when he is out there.”

On not getting a sack against the Steelers last week and if there is anything he can do differently this week after reviewing the game film:

“Of course, going back through watching film, they did some things differently. They were mixing up some looks on the offensive line, I guess to slow me down a little bit and to try to keep me off balance, whether it was things with tight ends or backs. It was a combination of looks. You work through it, especially after getting them back to back. It is nice to get another crack at them.”

On if the Browns have proven they are not the same team as past years:

“We will have to prove it when we see them on Sunday.”

On DE Olivier Vernon sustaining an Achilles injury last week:

“That is unfortunate. I hate to see him go down, especially like that. It was tough watching him on the ground like that, kind of knowing what had happened already. We have guys who are going to have to fill in the role and have guys who are going to step up – guys who have played before and guys who have made plays previously this season and wherever they have been, like AC (DE Adrian Clayborn) and now (DE) Porter (Gustin). Those guys are prepared to fill that spot and so am I.”

On it seeming like the deck has been stacked against the Browns this week with the obstacles the team has faced and if he and the team embrace the ‘underdog role’ they are in now:

“We have been in that role all year. We have been in that role since I have been here. Nothing has changed. Our backs are against the wall, and we are going to fight out of it and fight off of it.”

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