Joe Woods Makes Case For Returning As Browns Defensive Coordinator, But Isn’T Sure Of His Fate

Joe Woods wants to be back as Browns defensive coordinator, but it was evident in his last press conference of the season that he does not know his fate. (Getty Images)

Joe Woods wants to be back as Browns defensive coordinator, but it was evident in his last press conference of the season that he does not know his fate. (Getty Images)

Joe Woods makes case for returning as Browns defensive coordinator, but isn’t sure of his fate

You must have an active subscription to read this story.

Click Here to subscribe Now!

Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.

Takeaways from Browns practice and interviews …

On the day of the week Kevin Stefanski leaves the media podium to his coordinators, Joe Woods’ future with the team was a topic again.

Woods’ gallows humor sparked some conversation on social media when he joked at the end, “Hopefully, I’ll get to talk to you guys again.”

But Woods was candid, as always, when fielding questions about the subject of his future after a season in which he and his defense lived week-to-week in the sporting world of “embattled” and “beleaguered.”

“I hope I have the opportunity to come back,” said Woods, who left the 49ers after the 2021 season Super Bowl to become Stefanski’s first defensive coordinator. “I know things haven’t gone the way we would like them to go this year, but I feel like the first season going to the playoffs and winning a game for the first time in 26 years or something like that; the next year, we didn’t win a lot of games and that is what it is all about, but we did improve defensively to No. 5; and again, through the end of the season, I think we are playing better.

“It is the guys out there getting experience playing together. I feel like the guys we have on our team, because we have a young team, they are all coming back next year and we will have a full offseason. Long story short, I hope I get the opportunity, but that is not my decision.”

There are enough metrics out there to argue either way about Woods.

Negatives: They rank 32nd against the run in EPA (expected points allowed) with a historically low figure of minus-27.85 – the seventh-worst figure of the last 10 years. Also, defensive meltdowns were major factors in losses to the Jets, Falcons, Chargers, Patriots, Dolphins, Bills and Saints.

Positives: Over the past nine games, the Browns’ defense ranks first in opposing QBR (35.2), fifth in EPA (20.26) and first in average passing yards allowed (176.8). Also, over the last two years, Woods’ defense has held division opponents to an average of 17.2 points through 11 games.

Through it all, Woods has maintained a calm and pleasant demeanor.

“You just have to be tough-minded,” he said. “Things aren’t always going to go your way, but as long as you are confident… You have to be that way with the players because if you doubt yourself, they are going to doubt themselves.

“The one thing I will say is I was in this situation as a position coach in 2019. When I went to San Francisco, I think [coach Kyle Shanahan’s] first year, they were 6-10 and then they were 4-12 the second year. When I got there, there were a lot of people calling for [defensive coordinator Robert Saleh] because they regressed a little bit defensively. Kyle made some changes, and we went in and they were 4-12 in last place in the division in 2018. We had a couple key additions in the offseason, and we went from last to first in the division, 13-3 and went to the Super Bowl.

“I feel like that is something that is possible here just with the roster we have. I think again the guys will be better next year.”

Stefanski will have to finally address questions about possible staff changes in the season recap press conference next week.

Take a bow

Cleveland chapter of the Professional Football Writers of America named guard Joel Bitonio winner of the Joe Thomas Award as the team MVP and quarterback Jacoby Brissett winner of the Dino Lucarelli Good Guy Award.

It’s a ground-breaking honor for Bitonio to out-vote playmakers such as running back Nick Chubb, defensive end Myles Garrett, and receiver Amari Cooper. Two weeks ago, Bitonio was named to the AFC Pro Bowl for the fifth consecutive year.

“I really do appreciate it,” Bitonio said. “There’s a lot of good players on this team … guys that have played at a really high level. Just being in that conversation is pretty awesome.”

Bitonio joked that the bad news was he didn’t claim his fourth Good Guy Award.

“So I might have to go full tilt and be the bad guy the next couple years,” he said. “No, I do appreciate it. It’s a pretty cool honor.”

Brissett out-pointed six other players who received votes for meritorious cooperation with the news media. Through thick and thin during his 11-game stint as replacement starter during Deshaun Watson’s NFL suspension, Brissett always was a classy spokesman for the team.

Brissett was unavailable for comment during the period the locker room was open to media on Thursday.

(Yes, that does sound like a contradiction to the spirit of the award, but it was mostly because of a scheduling conflict.)

Brissett is expected to pursue a starting job via free agency after the season.

“Leadership. Passion. Just great, great energy,” Watson said of Brissett's strong suits. “Each and every day, he comes in and brings that next-man opportunity for everybody to come up and be able to perform. He is just making everyone else around him better. He is a guy who is always smiling. Like I said, he is all about his energy and his leadership, and he can go out there and win games. I think teams that are out there looking for a quarterback, he is definitely one who should be top of their radar.”

Brownie bits

On the subject of his future, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer didn’t think there is any uncertainty. “No. I love it here. I am under contract. I don’t plan on going anywhere else,” Priefer said. “I am from Cleveland. I want to help Cleveland win a world championship. That is why I am here, and that is my focus.” …

Cooper needs 81 yards to surpass his career best of 1,189 receiving yards set with Dallas in 2019. Cooper already set a career high with nine touchdowns. He said getting the receiving yards milestone is important to him, but when asked to assess his first season in Cleveland Cooper said, “It has been cool. Scored a lot of touchdowns and made some plays. I am really the type of player that oftentimes reflects back on the plays I didn’t make. I definitely feel like I left plays out there, but that is why we practice and that is why we work hard in the offseason so we can come back the next season and be better. That is what I plan on doing.” …

In answer to a question, Watson said he planned on spending the offseason in Cleveland. “I live here so I am going to stay in Cleveland. I will be here,” he said. In November, Watson closed on 17,200-square foot mansion in Hunting Valley. The purchase price was reported to be $5.4 million …

Right tackle Jack Conklin (ankle) and cornerback Denzel Ward (shoulder) each missed his second practice in a row. Their game status will be clarified on Friday …