INDIANAPOLIS (92.3 The Fan) – Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski held a breakfast meeting with the team’s beat writers prior to meeting the general media at Lucas Oil Stadium Friday morning.
Below is a transcript of the 36-minute conversation with Chudzinski which covered a bevy of topics including Brandon Weeden, creating competition at quarterback, the youth of the team and transitioning to a new defense.
Do you want to keep any of your free agents?
“We have an overall plan that we’ve been working on and working through for the last few weeks. It’s sort of a high level philosophy and there’s ongoing discussions and it’s an ongoing plan that we’re developing. At this time, not all the details have been worked out on that. Not all the discussion and specifics about every player have been worked out on that. So and that’ll be, we have 2 ½ weeks till we get into the free-agency period. Obviously those things will be worked out going forward and through those times. We’ve been meeting trying to catch up with a lot of things, free agency being one of the major things. I think really the biggest thing is we’ve outlined what we want in terms of a philosophy on anything.”
Where do you stand with free-agents-to-be Phil Dawson and Josh Cribbs?
“I’m not going to get into any specifics on any players, any of our free agents, any contractual situations. All those things I’m not going to get into and you understand why.”
Is there a chance any of your free agents could be back?
“Again, I don’t really want to get into any of that.”
What do you think of quarterback Brandon Weeden?
“I’ve looked at Brandon. I’m excited about getting Brandon out on the field and in the meetings and around the building. It’s tough when you’re just looking at tape on guys. That’s one piece of it. Certainly he has some good tools to work with. He had some success. You saw progress as the season went on last year. And again, I’m excited really with all of our guys, just getting them around and being around them a little bit more. And once we get them in meetings and get them on the field and start working with them, [we’ll] see where they can go from there. But I’m excited about Brandon.”
When owner Jimmy Haslam said you’ll have competition, does that mean you’ll add a quarterback in the draft or free agency?
“We have three guys here that provide competition and we’ll leave it open to whatever happens in terms of any other possible scenarios. We’re going to look at everything, every possibility to try to make the team better. I’m excited about Brandon. Obviously Colt [McCoy] has been here, has won games, has some unique abilities himself that I’m excited about. Again, getting all those guys in the building and see what they can do and being around them and really getting a chance to really evaluate them. You can look at tape and evaluate tape, but until you’re around guys, until you understand when you’re asking them to do certain things and seeing how they react to that and how they react on the field and how they play ultimately is what decides how far they can go.”
When you interviewed for the job, was there any discussion about expanding the zone-read offense you used with the Carolina Panthers here?
“No, there was really no discussion on that specifically. I’ve always believed from a philosophy standpoint as a coach you have to be able to flexible and adapt to the players that you have. That was something that I had never done in Carolina before and with Cam Newton and the possibilities with him and the potential that he had and really the background he had in college, I just felt like being able to give him something that would transition him to the NFL as you continue to develop and utilize some of those special, unique qualities that guys have, and that goes for all positions. That you’re looking to try to find roles for guys, looking for guys that have redeeming qualities and things they can do that are special and us having a good enough system and a flexible enough system that you can use those type of guys.”
We know what your offense looked like in 2007, is that the starting point or ending point?
“I feel like I’ve evolved as a coach and really that comes from offensive coordinator Norv [Turner]’s philosophy from year to year that you have to be pushing the envelope at all times and finding new, different, call them better ways of attacking and trying to attack defenses. So I don’t know if you call it the beginning point or starting point but there are components of the things that you would have seen in that offense, there’s components of the things that you would have seen in that offense, there’s components of the things that you would have seen in that offense. There’s components of the things that you would see in some of Norv’s offense, components of some of the things you would have seen in the Carolina offense that we’ll incorporate. And that’s really been one of the things that’s been fun, is sitting in there together and working through some of these things both on offense and defense, here’s what we’d like to do. Then the whole big part of it is, OK, now here’s the players we have. What can we do that fits? You’ve got this big playbook. What portion of it will we be able to use?”
Would you be comfortable with Weeden as your starter?
“Whoever our starter is, I’m going to be comfortable with.”
Is there another change coming at QB?
“Some of those things are hard to say. We need to get out on the practice field. We need to get into the meetings, get into the installs and evaluate him. We’re going to put the best guy on the field that gives us the best chance to win.”
Is Weeden’s age (29) a factor?
“I think you have to look at him as a second-year player because that’s what he is in this league. He had some ups and downs last season, but you saw progress as he went on. And all the quarterbacks, we’re going to challenge all of them. That’s the way we’re going to be with all our players, specifically the quarterbacks. I expect all of them to rise to the challenge and improve. I’m excited. You guys know the history of Norv and his work with quarterbacks. He’s done an unbelievable job with them, and I’m excited to get started with those guys.”
Do you think zone read has a future in Cleveland and does it depend on who your QB is?
“It’ll depend on the guys that are playing it, do they have the capabilities of doing it and some of the background on doing it and we’ll just have to see once we get out there what the guys can do.”
But you don’t dismiss it as just a fad?
“No, not at all.”
What do you like about it?
“When you look at doing it, you really, balance of it, most of the time defenses don’t have to account for the quarterback as a runner so you actually add a number to your run game and to your blocking schemes even out. It’s hard for them to outnumber you in the box and obviously just one more possibility of a guy who can carry the ball.”
Are those quarterbacks getting easier to find?
“Yeah, the college game has evolved to a lot of the spread and a lot of people doing those type of things so that’s what you’re getting from a college quarterbacks and you find less and less of the old style traditional drop back guys so they have some unique skill set.”
Do you see defenses starting to adjust to it?
“I think they have. You know they’ll continue to work and spend a lot of time on that and they’ll get better at playing those things. Again, it just gives you one more option as an offensive coach and in Carolina we were on the front end of that and on the cutting edge of really incorporating that as part of our offense. It started as not really knowing exactly how it would work. We worked our way through it really helped us a lot and helped Cam in his development and obviously the questions you start asking are what about the long term possibility of doing it and those type of things as a guy gets older and those are the things that we would’ve had to work through and anybody that is doing has to work through. Defensively we’re going to end up playing teams that do it and so we have to have answers and hopefully my experiences with doing that will help us defensively.”
How does Turner feel about Weeden?
“Very similar to what I’m telling you. As coaches a lot of time you look at tape and it tells a very small part of the story. Until you get out there, until you get in meetings with guys and you get a sense for them, you start teaching the things you want done and how you want them done and then see those guys and how they react to them on the field, and then get him in situations. Put him in situations that as a quarterback are important, the two-minute drills that you do in practice, and the third downs and the red zone and all those critical situations. That’s where you really get a chance to see him and evaluate him based on what you’re teaching them and what you’re emphasizing.”
Do you need to make a decision on Weeden before you get him on the field?
“April 1 is when these guys come in and show up. So we get them for two weeks starting April 1. This is all optional for them to report. We can meet with them for two weeks. We can’t go on the field with them, but we can meet with them for two weeks during that time. And then they can lift and work out in the weight room and run and those type of things. We can’t as coaches go on the field with them. And then we’ll have a minicamp after those two weeks, a veteran minicamp for three days. I think we’ll have five practices during those three days. Then we have three more weeks of phase two. That’s where we can be on the field coaching those guys and going through things. We can’t line up offense vs. defense, but we can do our perfect plays, we can run through all those things for three weeks and then we have four weeks of OTAs and finish with another minicamp at the end. Because we’re new, we get two minicamps. You get a minicamp before the draft, which will end up being two weeks or so before the draft and then the minicamp at the end.
Can Turner make Weeden better?
“He’s got a skill set that you’re excited about, and I have all the confidence in the world that Norv will get Brandon to improve and ultimately it’s going to be on Brandon or on any player what they put it into and how much they commit to it. That’s going to be the difference.”
What are Weeden’s skills that you see?
“He has a really good arm, he can throw the ball, he can make all the throws that you need to throw, he has a good, calm poise and demeanor in the pocket. Again, he was up and down a little bit and during the season as any young quarterback, or rookie quarterback especially is. You see some things that are there that get you excited about him.”
Do you need a veteran wide receiver?
“From a leadership standpoint, we have a lot of young guys on the team. And I think that as opposed to saying let’s bring in a veteran type guy necessarily, I think you need strong leadership regardless of where that comes from. And that can come from young guys. Sometimes that’s the thing you think of when you don’t have a veteran, you don’t have leaders. But leaders can grow from the young group of guys. So we need strong leadership. We need good leaders. Where that comes from I’m not necessarily worried whether that comes from a veteran or whether that would come from a young guy.”
Wide receivers Greg Little and Josh Gordon missed college time. Vet wide receivers good route runner would help?
“Greg and Josh both, you look at those guys and really like some of the ability that they have and what they’ve shown and obviously there are some areas they need to continue to get better in. But even sometimes with veteran guys, they’re coming in and learning a brand new system, and how we do things is going to be different than maybe they’re used to doing, regardless of how many years they have in the league. It’s going to be new for everybody, just having a veteran isn’t necessarily helpful in that manner.”
What are the biggest areas of need on the roster?
“We’ve assessed all those areas, and we do have a lot of areas that we need to improve on. I’m not going to get into pinning down the specifics on that, but we do have a lot of needs, a lot of areas we can improve on.”
Do you still use tight ends a lot in your offense?
“We have in the past. We’ve been fortunate to have those type of guys. If you don’t have those type of guys, then you utilize different personnel groups and, again, that goes back to the overall system of being flexible enough to be able to adjust to the guys you have and put the best guys on the field that can help you win.”
What are your impressions of running back Trent Richardson?
“I’m excited about Trent as well. I know he had some injuries early, but you could see him really develop as the season went on. Again, he’s a young guy, I think there’s still a lot of things he can improve on in his game and I’m excited to get him out there and get started with that process. We do have an overall young team and a young group of guys and we have a lot of work to do with those guys. And that’s the part you’re excited about as a coach, because that’s bridging the gap from some of the potential — which sometimes it’s that ugly word potential — but seeing that potential in guys and the talent in guys and then being able to bring that out and for them to develop into the players that they can ultimately become.”
What are your impressions about this year’s quarterback draft class?
“People have talked about that. I have not studied enough. I’m still playing catch up on a lot of these things in the draft, and we can go into all the things I’ve been doing in the meantime. I don’t have enough of a pulse on the whole class to really make a comment.”
Why do you feel you need to add a quarterback?
“In our discussions, I think the overall point is that we want competition. Going back to my past and my background playing at the University of Miami and being lucky enough to somehow get a chance to get on the field there – I don’t know how that happened – but competition makes people better, so however that competitions ends up coming about, I’m satisfied that we’ll be pushing and creating an environment for competition and that’s really ultimately what you want. Guys are going to have opportunities and when guys have opportunities, they have to make good on those opportunities and deliver, and that’s ultimately what you want to see as a coach, and that’s what you’re looking for.”
Will you have a role in evaluating draft prospects?
“Well, let me start off with, as I mentioned before, I am really excited about working, just in the short amount of time, working with [CEO] Joe [Banner] and [vice president of player personnel] Mike [Lombardi] and seeing those guys work together, the experience they have in football. They understand the football side of it, the business side of it. They’re extremely intelligent guys. They know the game. We’ve worked so well together. It’s really a collaborative effort. You look at Mike and the scouting staff and what they’ve done in a short amount of time. I’ve been extremely impressed with them. Part of the process we had to do early on was with the coaches. We spent a lot of time as coaches coming together and identifying what our profile was for our ideal player at different positions whether it was a slot corner or a left guard, or a receiver – every position coming together and really sitting down and hammering out. That was a process that took some time. Then being able to communicate that to the scouts and what they are looking for and how they can go out and recognize that more easily so we can all come together. It’s a worthwhile process and a necessary job to really do the job we want to do. I can’t emphasize enough Joe and Mike and what a great job they’ve done and what a pleasure it is to work with them. I really think the group works so well together. We’re all on the same page of where we want to go and the overall philosophy of it. You just have to hammer out the details of it. We have a great working relationship.”
Does the work the scouts did before you were hired conflict with what you want?
“I wouldn’t say conflict. As I mentioned before, we really tried to sit down and define from a player’s standpoint what we’re looking for as coaches by positions. What we’ve had to do, and Mike has done a great job with the scouts, is circle back and get them all together and then work to define that and get them all on the same page. Based on the evaluations they’ve done already, go back and, [say] ‘Does this fit this. This is what we’re talking about.’ They’ve done a lot of work. I don’t know if they’ve had to adjust to the overall system we’re talking about.’
How does the line in your hybrid defense look?
“A lot of those things will be answered when we get on the field and go through that. The style of 3-4 we’re talking about, the guys we have are very adaptable to that and will fit in. What I really see with that group up front is a number of guys that can play multiple positions. The inside guys, Phil [Taylor] and [Ahtyba] Rubin and Billy [Winn] can move around. Some can play defensive end. Some can play nose. The defensive tackles move and rotate around in there. You talked about Jabaal [Sheard]. I see him with the ability to be an outside linebacker and a defensive end. When we get out there on the grass, we’ll make that determination as far as that goes. One of the things [defensive coordinator] Ray [Horton] said in the press conference was not to put limitations on guys. You want to find out what they can do and not say, ‘They can’t do this. They can’t do that.’ Give them the chance to go there and we’ll zero in on what they can do well to hope us the most.”
Do you mean Sheard can play end in a 3-4 or 4-3?
How tough would it be for him to drop into coverage?
“It’s something he’s done some. You can see on tape he’s done a little bit of. Obviously that will be something he’ll learn and keep working on. I know that a year ago there were a lot of 3-4 teams that were interested in him as well.”
Linebackers are crucial. Who on the roster, besides D’Qwell Jackson, can you count on?
“You talk about Jabaal being able to play either one of the positions there. D’Qwell has played in a 3-4 defense before so he has a background in it. He’s played both positions inside in the 3-4 before. That gives us a lot of flexibility there. We have some younger guys, obviously Chris [Gocong] coming back from an Achilles. We’ll see how that all fits in there together. I feel confident we’ll be able to get the guys in place to be successful there.”
Will Gocong be ready for the start of the offseason conditioning program on April 1?
“I’m not sure about that yet. Rehab is on target, on track, he’s running and doing those type of things. Beyond that I don’t know exactly. I can’t give you an exact date.”
Will he be ready by minicamp?
“I don’t know yet.”
Were there offseason surgeries for other players?
“I’m not expecting any issues with any other things.”
Would you listen to trade offers for Weeden and Colt McCoy?
“We’re not going to get into any specifics on any of our guys. We’re looking to improve our team in any areas, by any means of doing that.”
Both Super Bowl teams used two tight ends. Is it more in vogue?
“I’ve always kind of thought it was in vogue. I think the position has grown in importance over the last 10 years. You look at the guys and the type of guys who are coming out in college, you’re seeing so many more guys who are athletic, are receiver types. The game’s evolved in that way and the position has evolved in that way, that you want those versatile type guys who can do everything. Ozzie Newsome was the exception back in the day.”
Three to four wide receivers were in two or three years ago, now it’s two tight ends?
“Versatile players are something that you value, guys that can play multiple positions and do multiple things for you.”
Versatility is a lot to ask of young team. Are you trying out guys at different spots then stick with one thing?
“I think it’s a little bit of both. You’re looking for guys who can do a lot of different things. Hopefully you have a system in place that you can teach and get those guys to be able to do that. Talking about the coaching staff, one of the things I was looking for, especially with a young group, is great teachers. Guy who can teach them, communicate effectively and motivate and get them to do things in a short amount of time. So that is part of that process as well. Looking for the right type of guys that fit, then finding what they can do well and then being able to coach them and teach them to get them to do the things you need to do. It’s all a part of the process.”
Has left guard Jason Pinkston, who had a blood clot in his lung last season, been cleared?
“I’m not sure what his status is and probably won’t be for a while.”
Is the fullback still an elemental part of your offense?
“I think so. The biggest thing is you have to adjust to the guys that you have, and if you have one, that’s great. It’s kind of a lost position, a lost art nowadays. But there is definite value in a good fullback.”
Why wouldn’t you re-sign Dawson given what he’s meant to the franchise? What’s to think about?
“Phil had a great year last year. I know Phil and I have a lot of respect for Phil, but I’m not going to get into what’s going on in our free-agent type situations.”
Were you so tied to 3-4 you didn’t care what went on here before?: You talk about flexibility. Why not keep defense and staff?
“I felt the ideal situation was the 3-4. That was the ideal in my mind as for what I wanted to do. I think the personnel we have are flexible enough that you don’t have to do a major overhaul. I don’t think the difference in scheme is that big from that standpoint. And then a guy like Ray Horton becomes available and he fit exactly the style I was talking about and the one I preferred. So, those things all come together and I’m excited about what the Browns’ defense is going to be.”
Why fire the wide receivers coach?: “From a system’s standpoint and bringing in a new system is I had a background with Scott and was very comfortable with Scott coaching the receivers. It doesn’t comment to any of the coaches who were here before. It’s more about knowing the system and the scheme and comfortable level and being around guys you have coached with.”
Was Ray Horton your hire or the front office’s hire?
“It was [me] all the way. I love having Ray Horton and I think everybody was excited in the building about it as well.”