Head Coach Kevin Stefanski (11.15.23)

Opening statement:

“Okay, obviously, I know you guys got the Deshaun (Watson) news. Incredibly disappointed for the kid. He battled like crazy to get back out there and then for what he did with those injuries in the second half is even more remarkable. So disappointed for him, but he’ll get back, he’ll get healthy. I know that he’ll attack his rehab. So for us, we’re excited about our opportunity this week. Got the 6-3 Steelers coming town, 6-3 Browns down there on the lake. So we’re very excited about that and that’s where our focus is. We’re focusing on going 1-0 this week any which way we can. And that’s the exciting part about life in the NFL. That Steelers team is coming in here, as we know, really well-coached, good players. They’re a tough matchup. Their defense that front is stout. Good players in the back end, including Joey Porter who is playing more and more and playing at a high level for them. Offensively, create all sorts of issues with their pre-snap movement. Some new players on that side of the ball as well, think they’ll get their tight end back. So a huge challenge and special teams – I think our special teams made some plays to help us win last week and that’s going to definitely be the case again this week. So again, excited for the challenge of playing at our place in November and with that, I’ll take any questions.”


Who will be your starting quarterback on Sunday?

“Yeah, Dorian’s (Thompson-Robinson) going to start.”


What was the decision to go back to him?

“Yeah, I just felt like, as you know, every week you’re trying to just make the best decisions you can for your team. I want to give him a week where he knows he’s the starter. He gets a full week of preparation.”


What do you think he learned from that first start? And how has he maybe grown since then?

“I would hope all of our players learn from every opportunity. Whether you start or don’t, whether you get ten plays or 60 plays, I think you take learning experiences from every rep you get, practice and game.”


What makes you confident that he will be a lot better than he was in that Ravens game?

“Again, young players need exposure. You get better in practice. Sometimes you get better through games.”


Kevin, it feels like one thing or another has been thrown at you guys all season. I mean, this being the latest, do you feel like what you’ve been through already prepares you guys for what’s ahead?

“I’ve said to you guys before, I’ve said to the team, you can’t predict anything in this league. You can’t predict what’s going to happen. When you’re sitting there back in August, you don’t know what’s coming your way. So, we keep a very, very narrow focus in this building. What I know is we got a big one on Sunday.”


Kevin, how has Dorian handled kind of this part of the season after the Ravens game and going back to that backup position, but there’s kind of this process. How has he responded?

“Young player, works very hard. Gave him a scout team game ball last week with his work as prepping our defense for the Ravens. So he’s gotten better and better, I think in practice. Works very hard in the meeting room with all those guys and AVP (Alex Van Pelt), so he’s working very hard.


Did you have any idea during the game, Kevin, that Deshaun was experiencing shoulder problems?

“I did not.”


Deshaun seemed like in disbelief still over this mean just from what you’ve seen from him so far with him being here, how do you think he’s handled this? And it obviously seems like he really wanted to continue playing. 

“I’ve talked to him a lot, obviously. He’s disappointed. He’s a competitor, he’s a leader of the football team, so it’s tough and we’ve all been around this game and we’ve seen guys have season ending injuries and it’s no fun for anybody. You feel for those guys. We got guys in the training room right now that are out for the season. We feel for them, but we got a game. We got a game on Sunday. We got a great opportunity in front of us, so we know he’s going to go heal up and get better. And in the meantime, he’s going to be supporting his teammates..”


A lot of fans remember the DTR game against Baltimore. We all saw him play really well in training camp and in the preseason games. Going back to that time, what did you really like about him and what gives you confidence that he can keep the offense going going forward?

“Yeah, I think for us, obviously did a ton of work on him coming out. So he’s played a lot of football. He’s very athletic, can make plays, has a very good understanding of what we do of our offense and those type of things. So he’s a young player that I think will just continue to get better.”


The other fact is P.J. Walker did win games for you. Did you just feel the coaches that you couldn’t live with his turnovers anymore? 

“No. I would tell you with P.J., he’s still a guy that we’re counting on. He’s done a great job in the meeting room on the practice field, like you mentioned has led us in these games. He has to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. Just felt like this was the right decision for the team right now.”


Hey, Kevin, you didn’t want to reveal your left tackle last week… 

“Because you found out, Jeff (Schudel), that’s why. That’s not true by the way.”


So why did you choose to announce who you’re starting at quarterback? 

“Because you found out.”


You’ve had experience in having to get backup quarterbacks ready throughout your career. What are the key elements in doing that heading into the week? 

“Yeah, so much gets made of the quarterback position. I get it. But every one of our players has to do their job. And I think whether it’s the left tackle, whether it’s the quarterback, you just have to do your job. So as a backup, and particularly in that room as a backup quarterback, you have to understand the offense in and out. You have to be ready to operate from the huddle, operate at the line of scrimmage. But those are all things that you prepare yourself for during the week. So nothing’s going to change from that perspective. We expect who’s ever out there just to do their job.”


An injury like this to a significant player seemingly, do you feel the need to rally the team and to reinforce some kind of message in a team meeting?

“Obviously, I talked to the team about it this morning. Not going to get into specifics other than say, we have a job to do Sunday.”


With a young player like DTR, he’s got some of that gunslinger mentality in him. But as you know, you guys are so big, you lead the league right now still in 19 giveaways. So how do you strike that balance with DTR and letting him let it rip and air it out and also kind of being careful with the ball? 

“Yeah, I think you can play this game a certain way where you are playing carefree, but you’re not being careless. You have to take care of the ball. We know that turnover stat is the most important thing that drives winning and losing. I know Pittsburgh is tied for the league in plus ten and turnover margin. They’ve taken care of the ball. They haven’t given it away very much and they’ve had a lot of takeaways. So we get that. We understand that’s part of this game. And every game moving forward is taking care of the ball.”


The tackles, is it status quo? We know that (Dawand) Jones isn’t practicing today, but also (Michael) Dunn is practicing, right?
“Yeah, we’ll work through all those things this week.”


One of the things that Andrew (Berry) told us earlier that he really admires about you is your ability to emotionally kind of stay level as things get really good or really bad throughout the course of the season. Does that come naturally to you or is that something you’ve had to work on? 

“I don’t know. I just know we’ve talked about as a team again with the NFL season, there are ups and downs, there are wins and losses. You lose guys due to injury, people step up, but we as a team don’t ride an emotional roller coaster. It does us no good. We focus on the task at hand.”


You addressed this a little bit at the beginning, but just how remarkable was it for Deshaun to go out there in the second half, go 14 and 14 on a broken shoulder and a high ankle sprain? 

“Yeah, I told you after the game he was a warrior and that was without knowing about the shoulder injury. Just that scramble late in the game on a high ankle was incredible. Now, the throws that he was able to make, especially the one on second down there to Amari (Cooper), I think about difference in the game. So incredible feat of toughness.”


Whose not practicing today, are you ruling anybody out for Sunday? Juan (Thornhill), Dawand and Marquise (Goodwin)? 

“Yeah, not ruling anybody out. No.”


Will Wyatt (Teller) be able to practice the rest of the week? 

“We’ll see.”


What do you think that Dorian learned from his start? That gives you the confidence that he should be the guy to lead the Browns into this game against the Steelers? 

“Yeah, I think with Dorian and that game, again, that was a tough spot that he was in. So I think this week, having a full week of preparation, knowing that he’s going to be the starter, I think is important. Every backup will tell you and it’s the truth. They have to be ready to go after the first play. After the second play, if the starter needs a shoelace, you have to be ready to go. So he’s prepared himself all season, just felt like this was the right thing for the team.”


This is something that the team has gone through before and them trying to do their jobs, but how important is the connection and the bonds these guys have created in getting through something like this and overcoming adversity? 

“Yeah, I think that’s a huge part of it, Cam (Justice). And I think this team, as we’ve all seen, will fight like crazy. Sometimes in pregame, which I don’t recommend, but that’s what’s required. And these guys, they care about each other. They’re going to push each other. They’re there for each other. We have Deshaun’s back through all this as he gets better and we know he’s got our back, so we’ll continue to fight. That’s just what we do.”


Did you give any consideration to just hauling in some veteran, experienced quarterback, maybe somebody you’ve had some experience with and just throwing them out there? 

“Obviously that’s something that Andrew and the crew will always look at, those type of things, but I feel really confident with the guys we got.”


Without Watson in there, are you more inclined to use a second quarterback based on performance during the game?

“Yeah, for me, it’s just getting our guys ready to play.”


Is Deshaun going to be on the sideline Sunday? If he’s not, how long is he going to be away from the team? 

“Yeah, we’re still working through all that.”


He’d be on the sideline Sunday? 

“It depends on when that surgery is scheduled.”


You say teams have to go through adversity and you have to go through the bounces of the NFL. But what would you have said if someone told you in preseason that you would be without Jack Conklin, Nick Chubb, Deshaun Watson for the second half? 

“Yeah, again, that’s why you can’t predict it because you don’t even try to. But I’ve said it a thousand times, greatest team sport there is. That’s what I love about this game. I love the challenge. We love those guys, but the reality is that they’re out for the season and we trust the guys that are going to be in their spots.”


Your defense was able to help you kind of carry through the first time when Deshaun was out. What do you tell those guys on that side of the ball as far as maybe not trying to do too much? 

“Yeah. I think our guys understand what good defense looks like. It really just comes down to doing your job. We have really good leadership on that side of the ball, so I trust that they’ll continue to keep that their focus.”

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