Now that it appears the NFLPA and the league have worked out their differences, Browns training camp will start on time on July 28, baring any unforeseen circumstances. The agreement calls for practice to start August 12 and a roster cut of 90 to 80 players on August 16. Browns fans will only have four days to play their favorite game, “adopt a training camp rookie.” The provision in the agreement that could effect the Browns in the most negative way is, no pre season games. Teams with new coaching staffs like the Cowboys and Mike McCarthy, Washington and Ron Rivera, Giants and Joe Judge, Panthers and Matt Rhule and the Browns lose the valuable head start they achieve with pre season games. McCarthy and Rivera have the benefit of prior head coaching experience, while Kevin Stefanski and McCarthy benefit from more experienced rosters. Not only do new schemes have to be installed, but the coaching staff will be meeting the players face to face for the first time on July 28. But is this truly as dire for the Browns as it looks? This article will attempt to convince Browns fans otherwise.
In this very unusual year, the NFL has attempted to stay on schedule, damn the pandemic, full steam ahead. So to give up profitable pre-season games in favor of players health makes sense to get training camps open. But the in person teaching of Kevin Stefanski’s offense will be limited as well as the in game communications between the head coach and staff to the team. This week on the “Dan Patrick show”, Browns center and NFLPA president J.C. Tretter acknowledged it would be a challenge, but as reported by the Akron-Beacon Journal, he has confidence in the Browns coaching staff. “I trust the coaches to be able to figure out how to put us in those positions in practice and put us in situations that we can mimic live game reps, mimic those situations and get ready for the game,” Tretter said. “I think that’s possible without preseason games. If we were to play one preseason game backed up to the regular season, how many of the starters who you’re talking about getting ready would have played in that game risking injury anyway? Overall, it just didn’t make sense to slide one in at the end because I don’t think it would’ve done what it was supposed to do.”
Where does this confidence in the coaching staff by J.C Tretter come from? Head coach Kevin Stefanski spent thirteen years with the Vikings moving up the offensive coaching ladder, going from assistant quarterbacks coach (2009-2013) to offensive coordinator. In between Stefanski coached tight ends (2014-2015) , running backs (2016), quarterbacks (2017-2018) and became the full time offensive coordinator in 2019. Having coaching knowledge in all these various offensive positions will benefit Stefanski as a head coach. Other members of the coaching staff have experience in coaching various position groups. Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt has coached both running backs and quarterbacks, wide receiver coach Chad O’Shea has coached special teams, wide receivers and was the Dolphins OC in 2019 and tight ends coach Drew Petzing has coached wide receivers and quarterbacks. Add to this list an experienced running back coach in Stump Mitchell and a top five offensive line coach in Bill Callahan and one could see where J.C. Tretter gets his confidence.
On Thursday the Browns hired Kevin Rogers as senior offensive assistant. At first it would seem odd that the Browns were hiring a new coach this close to the opening of training camp. Maybe it took time to work out a deal with Rogers? Or maybe, because of Rogers history with Coach Stefanski, it makes perfect sense. Both Rogers and Stefanski worked for the Vikings from 2006 to 2010. Rogers was quarterbacks coach and served as a mentor to Stefanski after he was hired in 2006. If head Kevin Stefanski is going to install a new offense, it wouldn’t hurt to have another coach you have confidence in to help.
But like any new offensive scheme, it all comes down to the quarterback. Baker Mayfield last year suffered a major setback due to the ineptitude of former head coach Freddie Kitchen’s play calling and lack of a quality backup quarterback. This year Mayfield benefits from an offensive scheme that highlights his strengths and back up quarterback Case Keenum. The Minnesota wide zone offense made both Keenum and QB Kirk Cousins into playoff quarterbacks. Keenum has been schooling Mayfield in the offense during the off season and Mayfield has shown his willingness to learn the new offense by sitting in on all offensive position group zoom meetings. This is what a franchise quarterback does.
In the end, should Browns fans share in J.C Tretter’s confidence? They most definitely should. It’s not the perfect situation for a team with a new coaching staff. But with a coaching staff well versed in various offensive position groups, a head coach who exudes confidence in his ability to coach and a roster filled with experienced professional football players, Browns fans should have peace of mind. Is it time to pour that large glass of Kool-Aid? Not quite yet. But it is time to move on to Browns training camp and to the 2020 football season.