The Race To Be Ready For The Season Opener Begins For Kevin Stefanski And The Browns

Baker Mayfield is among the Browns' early-arrivals able to begin the team's strength and conditioning workouts. (Cleveland Browns)

Baker Mayfield is among the Browns' early-arrivals able to begin the team's strength and conditioning workouts. (Cleveland Browns)

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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand and 850 ESPN Cleveland.

Takeaways from Kevin Stefanski’s first Zoom conference call of Browns training camp …

Wait, and then hurry up

There are 44 days until the Browns season-opener Sept. 13 in Baltimore, and Kevin Stefanski still hasn’t met his entire team yet. Not face-to-face, er, mask-to-mask. That won’t happen until Monday.

And of those 44 days to prepare for the defending AFC North champion Ravens, six are off days. So that leaves 38 working days.

And yet, Stefanski believes/insists his team will be ready – Covid-19 pandemic be damned.

“Sure, I do,” Stefanski said on Thursday. “We have to make every day count, even those off days. The guys have to make sure that they are serious about their recovery. I think we have a really strong plan in terms of how we are going to ramp it up.”

After doing everything “virtually” and with no field work until now, everybody wants to press the pedal to the metal. But Stefanski is being told by his medical experts to tap the brakes. The first 7-10 days of having 90 players together are the most crucial in establishing a virus-free environment, he’s been told.

“I just know this … you want to go real fast. I have told the players this and I told the coaches this, we will not do too much too fast,” Stefanski said. “It is just not in anyone’s best interest. There are small concessions that we have to make that put us out of our comfort zone to make sure that we are staying safe, especially early on in this thing, and that is just on the advice with the medical experts.”

After seven days of strength and conditioning and basic walk-throughs, Stefanski can enter Phase 1 of light, full-team workouts. To limit the people in the building, he will split the 90-player squad into two teams that will practice separately in the morning and afternoon.

There will be no in-person meetings – only virtual, like in the offseason – until August 9.

When the offense is in on the field during this Phase 1 period, there will be no huddling.

“That is something that is the antithesis of an offensive coach,” Stefanski said. “The first meeting you have is about the huddle, the tight huddle and breaking the huddle. We are going to make sure that we spread everybody out. Again, it just goes back to early on in this thing, we want to have an abundance of caution to make sure we are keeping our players and staff safe.”

Things won’t begin to look normal, Stefanski said, until full padded practices with contact begin on August 18.

And then it will be down to 28 days until the opening kickoff in Baltimore.

“I think this is fun,” Stefanski maintained. “I feel like we put together a good plan. It is a challenge, no doubt, and something that is very unique, but there is opportunity here. I think our team and our organization is certainly positioning itself so we can get out there, get our players in a safe environment, get our coaches here safely and get to work.”

Dealing with no preseason games

Stefanski would not say how the elimination of preseason games affects his plan to audition offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt as the offensive play-caller. He indicated he has a new plan and said he would announce who will call plays “when the time is appropriate.”

Calling the absence of preseason games “definitely unique,” Stefanski said the coaches must create “game-like settings … and some situational football” in the padded practices.

The lack of games won’t change the plan to prepare No. 10 overall draft pick Jedrick Wills as the starting left tackle from Day 1.

“We are keenly aware that we have a young player over there at left tackle,” Stefanski said. “Trust me, his development is something that we will be very much on top of. We just have to work. Like I mentioned earlier, we have to make sure every one of these days counts. Every one of these periods and every one of these lifting sessions, you have to make them all count. It is a shorter runway, but I think we can really get to where we need to get to just like we would in a normal training camp.”

Njoku update

Stefanski said he has not spoken with David Njoku since the tight end hired agent Drew Rosenhaus and informed the team he wished to be traded.

“My stance hasn’t changed,” Stefanski said. “The organization’s stance hasn’t changed in that we believe in David, excited to work with him. I will get to finally be in the same room as him this weekend as he is coming in for physicals and then get out on the field with him Monday. Excited to work with him.”

Brownie bits

Punter Jamie Gillan was placed on the reserve/Covid-19 list. Gillan told NFL Network he tested positive earlier this month, tested negative on Tuesday and then positive on Wednesday.

Stefanski kept comments brief about guard Drew Forbes choosing to opt out of the 2020 season. “Drew made a decision,” he said. “I respect his decision. It is the ‘next man up’ mentality. We will see how [the competition at right guard] all shakes out.”

Stefanski confirmed the “next man up” mentality extends to any coaches who may be sidelined by Covid-19, including himself. “For every single position – it is not just the coaching staff; we have really done this throughout our football operation – we have made sure who is the next man up, the next person up. We have that laid out,” he said.

The biggest non-Covid medical question is when receiver Jarvis Landry will be ready for physical work after having hip surgery in February. Landry could be placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, pending his physical this weekend. “He remains on schedule, based on everything he has done post-surgery,” Stefanski said. Landry has said he will be ready for the start of the season.