TE Austin Hooper (8.5.20)

TE Austin Hooper:

On if he feels safe at the Browns facility:

“Yeah, all you can do is the best with the situation you are given. Obviously, this is a global pandemic. Does any building have it down to 100 percent perfect? I do not know, but I feel very confident in (Head) Coach (Kevin) Stefanski and (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager) Mr. (Andrew) Berry and all the things they have in place. The Haslams have done a great job with the facility. According to guys who have been there, it is completely different, revamped and a more spacious, more space-oriented building and space-oriented structure now. I feel very, very confident with all of the different safety measures that have been put in place. For example, I got tested again. I had my COVID-19 test again this morning at 8:30 a.m., and just to get from one part of the building the other, I had to get my temperature checked multiple times. There are a lot of safety measures in place, and it is making me feel confident that we can we can do this at a safe and high level.”

On if it hits home when learning players decided to opt out for various reasons:

“Yeah, at the end of the day, this is a game, and, life and family at least in my book go above sports. You have to do what you feel is right. I love ball, I am ready to go and luckily, I am not in a situation where I have a newborn who is sick or this, that or the third where you [have to consider] is football more important than possibly costing your family member their life? Luckily, I am not in that situation where I have to make that incredibly difficult decision so I completely respect those guys and what they are going through, but I am ready to play ball.”

On if the bigger concern is to complete the season during a pandemic or the team being able to perform its best among the challenges:

“I think all of us in the building are just trying to be the best versions of ourselves as possible. Obviously, with the guidelines that are dictating upon how we can act, we have to do it a little differently, but the goal still remains the same. The goal remains the same.”

On if the Browns can be at their peak in September following a virtual offseason, a modified training camp and no preseason games:

“That is a tough one. I do not really know how you want me to go with this one, but having less football makes it tough. At the end of the day, this is something that is not just us but everyone across the league has to do. In a crazy, messed up way, we are all on the same scale. Ideally, would you like to play football? The only way to get better at football is by playing more football, and without as much, especially with a new system, could there possibly be some growing pains? Who knows? The way that Coach Stefanski and the offensive staff, speaking on my side of the ball, have done such a great job of articulating the new offense and teaching it to us, being a new guy in this offense, I feel pretty comfortable already. I am just really excited to get on the grass and get after it when we are able to do so safely.”

On if he knew C JC Tretter prior to coming to Cleveland:

“No.”

On if he has had much communication with Tretter, particularly given Tretter’s role as NFLPA President:

“I have still yet to meet a lot of my teammates to be honest with you because we are broken up into pods, as I am sure you are well aware. We are broken up in pods so I really do not see a lot of guys except in passing, say hello, stay six feet away and just kind of say something quick in passing. If you are asking if I had like a deeper conversation with the man, not yet.”

On if he kept in close touch with Tretter about COVID-19 discussions between the NFL and NFLPA during the offseason:

“No, to be honest. This might sound a little pessimistic, but I really do not have any say in what happens so I kind of just waited until the decisions are finalized and what is my new normal going forward. Not saying my way is right, but that is the way I handled it.”

On developing chemistry and a friendship with QB Baker Mayfield, including his time with Mayfield in Austin, Texas:

“It is good. You just touched on it, I was staying at Baker’s house for like two or three weeks so we had a good time when we were practicing and when we were not practicing. I definitely think that was kind of the initial spark that really helped our chemistry. In terms of this interesting situation we have now, we are still able to be around each other in the building and still get reps. Are they full speed? No, but the ability to be around each other and being able to work with each other, I feel like the more time you put in with each other, just the better that relationship will grow.”

On if he started to build chemistry and timing with Mayfield when they were in Austin:

“For sure. We already banked a couple hundred reps so that is huge. Especially in a super-condensed offseason and a super-condensed training camp format, banking those few hundred reps in my opinion has really helped us already.”

On how he connected with Mayfield in the offseason to visit him in Austin, given he previously said he reached out to Mayfield right after he signed with the Browns:

“I was in contact with Baker before I signed, too. I don’t know if I am getting anybody in trouble or anything, but at the end of the day, that is just how it works between players, if I am being honest. You just want to get a feel for the person you are going to work with for years. I got in contact with him early on in the process so when I did sign, I already had an idea of where am I going, who is my quarterback and what is he all about. I told him that I like to work and I like to do stuff in the offseason. He was more than ready and willing to do that. Right as soon as I signed, a couple weeks later, I went out to Texas and was there for a week and a half or two weeks and then took a month off. At that time, we all thought we were about to roll back in for OTAs and what have you. Obviously, things have changed since then. About a month after I first came out there, I stayed another week and a half out there. Banked a few hundred reps with him, had a good time with him on and off the field and just kind of got a feel for him, his personality, his wife, his family and his friends and just kind of really see Baker the person. It was a good time.”

On his first impressions of Mayfield:

“Baker, obviously talented, a strong arm. He has a real competitive fire. Those are the two deals that really made me want to sign here were Baker and just his style of quarterback – him being aggressive, has that swag with him, which I do want. I want to play for a quarterback who has that to them a little bit, and obviously, the arm talent is there. It was a really easy decision for me.”

On how he can help Mayfield on the field:

“Run routes, get open and catch the ball. I am sure that will help him out.”

On his relationship with TE David Njoku:

“David and I have always been cool. That is why I don’t want you guys to get misconstrued in any way, shape or form because when you let the media and just leave you guys to your own devices, you guys are great fiction writers sometimes (laughter). David and I have always had a good relationship. A super nice, super sweet dude. Genuinely a good human being. He changed agents, and the agent wanted him to go somewhere else. I get it. It is a business at the end of the day. You have to do right by your family. He switched agents to an agent who, if you take a look at someone’s track record, that is something he has always done. Going into his contract year, he swapped agents, and of course, that is going happen. At the end of the day, that is no indictment on him and his character or that me and him aren’t cool. At the end of the day, it is a business. I get it. David and my relationship is still good – still a good dude and really looking forward to working with him. I wouldn’t put it on, ‘Oh, David didn’t want to be here and then now he does.’ The beauty of COVID has just shown, especially the media, there is a human-being component to this, too. It is not just nameless, faceless players out there. There is a lot more that goes into it. There is no ill will on my end, Again, I get it. It is a business. You have to do right by yours. Switched to a new agent, and historically, that is what that agent likes to do. Me and him are cool. I am looking forward to working with him.”

On what is most critical over the next few weeks to ensure the offense is ready for the season:

“I would say continuity. New system, new players and a lot of new faces around, you have to get used to playing next to people. You have to get used to seeing how they move, what they like to do, what their best skillset is and how they can be used to the best of their ability and their fullest potential. I think that will be the biggest thing is just that continuity. That can only be done through reps. Meetings are great and walkthroughs are great, but you have to play football to really get that feel by playing next to each other.”

On building camaraderie with teammates while social distancing:

“This is the new normal, right? You have to abide by the rules because first and foremost, we want there to be a season, and the only way we can do that is by being socially distant and by self-adhering to the rules. Normally, as you know, we would all go to a restaurant together, grab some pops together and just do guy stuff to just build bonds. Obviously, with everything that is going on, the format is different. You are asking a really good question. I just don’t know how we can do that other than just spend more time in the building, but right now, only certain people can be in the building and certain people can’t. That is a good question. I don’t really have an answer for you.”

On his role in the TE room as an experienced veteran:

“My style, I have never really been a rah-rah guy at all. I just kind of like to lead by example, and if people have questions, I will answer them. I am an open book. I don’t try to hoard information. I don’t like doing the whole (Raiders TE) Jason Witten deal where it is me versus everyone else in the tight end room. I think it is more like we are all in this together. (TEs) David (Njoku), Harrison (Bryant), Stephen (Carlson), Pharaoh (Brown), Nate (Wieting), we are all in this together. I look at it as just like a big family in our room. We all have one common goal, and that is to win our reps. However someone does it a certain way, that resonates with someone else’s learning process better. I think just like any other workplace, it is better when it is collaborative and not combative. That is what I try to bring to the room and let everybody know that yeah, I am one of the older guys in this room, but don’t feel like I am not approachable. I am and open book. I want to see people do well.”

On the similarities and differences to 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system, given he played with Shanahan in Atlanta:

“Until I am around Stefanski long enough to feel his play calling style, I can’t really answer the second

part of that question [about differences]. Schematically, it is very similar – a lot of outside zone, play-action keepers, the three to five step concepts are similar and the play-action shots that come off of it are very similar. For me, it is refreshing because in my four seasons at Atlanta, I had three different coordinators and had to learn three different offenses. It is cool to be back in something that I already know.”