Browns coach Kevin Stefanski announces he'll continue to call plays next season

Nate Ulrich
Akron Beacon Journal

INDIANAPOLIS — Coach Kevin Stefanski put a key question surrounding the Browns to bed Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine.

“I'll still call the plays” next season, Stefanski said during his media availability at the Indiana Convention Center.

Stefanski has served as the offense's play caller in each of his two seasons as head coach of the Browns.

But after the team finished the 2021 season with a disappointing record of 8-9, Stefanski left the door open for ceding play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt.

Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski also tested positive for COVID-19 in 2020.

“Every offseason, I want to make sure I'm intentional about reflecting on everything we do, so that's part of our operation, part of our process, if you will, and I think we can do it better,” Stefanski said.

“There's a few things that we've talked about doing — nothing big. There's things I think we can do to streamline communication, but I think our process overall has been pretty good.”

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Stefanski recently promoted Drew Petzing from tight ends coach to quarterbacks coach, a role Van Pelt held the past two seasons, even though it wasn't part of his job title. T.C. McCartney moved from offensive assistant to tight ends coach.

But the shuffling of the coaching staff proved to be unrelated to Stefanski's play-calling decision, and Van Pelt will still be heavily involved with the quarterbacks and game-day operations.

"I really, really value AVP's role on our staff — what he does for our offensive staff, really what he provides to our entire staff," Stefanski said. "The voice he provides in the quarterback room is vitally important to what we do.

"AVP is a huge, huge part of what we do throughout the week and on game day. I think we have ideas of how we can do that better. I think that's something that we've really spent time on, making sure we have everybody's voice, everybody has a way to on game day contribute, if you will, and AVP's a huge part of that."

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Last season, the Browns ranked 18th among the NFL's 32 teams in offense (340.6 yards per game) and 20th in scoring (20.5 points per game). They were fourth in rushing yards (145.4 per game) compared with 27th in passing yards (195.3).

Quarterback Baker Mayfield played hurt for most of the season after suffering a completely torn labrum in his left, non-throwing shoulder in a Week 2 win over the Houston Texans, and he took a monumental step back from a promising 2020 season in which the Browns went 12-6, including 1-1 in the playoffs.

Mayfield finished last season ranked 27th in passer rating (83.1) and completion percentage (60.5) among 31 qualifying quarterbacks.

Cleveland Brown head coach Kevin Stefanski, right, watches quarterback Baker Mayfield during practice at the Cleveland Browns training facility Friday, Aug. 14, 2020 in Berea, Ohio.

Asked why the passing game was broken, Stefanski said, "I think we were just too inconsistent. I think there were times that we just have to do a little bit better job at really every spot — coaching, playing, you name it. I just think we've to nail down the details of our system, give our guys the best chance to succeed and then ultimately make a couple more plays a game."

To be clear, the scheme must be reviewed this offseason to ensure the passing game is more explosive.

"Always. We have to, and I think that's going to be a major focus," Stefanski said. "It has been a major focus of ours as we start this offseason, as we look at the tape of what we're doing, some things that we're doing well, some things that we're not doing so well and really studying hard some other teams, seeing what they're doing and seeing how it applies to what we do.

"So that's an ongoing process, but it is definitely something that we've paid close attention to."

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The Browns used three tight ends at the same time more than any other NFL team last season — and it wasn't even close. They did it on 17% of their offensive plays, according to sharpfootballstats.com. No other team used 13 personnel more than 8% of the time.

"We talked a lot about 13 personnel because those are our tight ends — [Austin Hooper, David Njoku and Harrison Bryant]," Stefanski said. "We feel strongly about those players. If your roster evolves, you better be ready to evolve, but we're not tied to any one specific personnel."

It's no secret the Browns need major upgrades in their receiving corps this offseason.

"There are some really good ones in this draft, I've been told," Stefanski said. "I'm still diving into the tape as we speak."

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Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski on the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Lions on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021 in Cleveland.

Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.com.