The Cleveland Browns and head coach Mike Pettine are back to work this week in Berea during the first Organized Team Activities of the new NFL year.
Heading into his second season in charge of the Browns, Pettine knows the one undeniable truth about life in the NFL – you are only as good as your record.
“To me, it’s on the field where we’ll be judged. We look at the moves that we made as we felt were very positive, but it’s all going to come down to ‘how does this group play together?’” Pettine said during a session with the media on Tuesday. “It’s chemistry. It’s how do these guys fit in? How do they fit in the locker room? How do they interact with each other?
“Now, drop on top of it, too, you have a new offensive coordinator, some new faces on the offensive staff. You’re throwing a lot of new together, and I’m very interested to see how that will all hash out. We feel very positive about it, but it’s again ultimately judged on how things go in the fall.”
One of the most important new faces is offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, who spent the past five years coaching quarterbacks in Oakland. Cleveland will be DeFilippo’s first job as an offensive coordinator at the NFL level, and Pettine highlighted the energy that DeFilippo brings to the room.
“I’ve sat in the back of the room with my notebook and been like a rookie quarterback,” Pettine said. “I’ve taken a lot of notes and sat in a quarterback meeting, as well as his install meetings. I thought Flip was outstanding. It was a day — and he’ll tell you — he’s prepared for this day for a long time. He hit it out of the park.
“I told the players in the team meeting that, ‘I can tell you why I hired the guy, but when you have your first meeting with him you’ll see why.’ To me, it comes down to it’s passion and it’s energy. He was great. It would be difficult to dose off in one of his meetings. I’ll put it that way.”
With the NFL Draft just a little more than a week away and the Browns having plenty of holes to fill on the roster, there is plenty of speculation on what the Browns will do with their two first-round draft picks. One area that team may look to improve on is the pass rush, especially at outside linebacker after losing Jabaal Sheard in free agency.
“I just think his skill set … If we do put him there I don’t know how much we’ll drop him. I think it also falls back on the concept of you fit your system to your players not your players to your system,” Pettine said. “We talk about wanting to get our best 11 out there. If he shows that ability to rush the passer, especially on early downs, it makes sense to get him out there. When I was in New York and we had (linebackers) Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace – were really mirrored guys and they both could rush, they both could drop — we played a certain way. Then when we went to Buffalo and had a (defensive end) Mario Williams, we wanted him going at the quarterback and very few times going the other direction — adapted it to take advantage of that skill set. I see this as a very similar situation.”
Of course, these are the Browns so Pettine was obligated to address the biggest question facing the team — the quarterback situation.
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“At this point we don’t have a game this weekend. I’m not going to get into penciling in guys and, ‘Hey, this guy’s a starter,’” Pettine said of a roster that features Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw and Thad Lewis on the depth chart. “We’re a ways away from just kind of worrying about how the depth part of it shakes out. Again, they’re all in that room, and they’re all trying to learn it. Josh, obviously, has an advantage having been in this system where there’s a lot of carryover because he worked with Flip before. I know a lot of those similar roots are in there, but we don’t really kind of get into depth charts and where guys are. This is Day One.
“Josh, he’s very positive. He sees himself as a leader, but also sees himself as part of that leadership is helping the younger players. This is a guy that’s been a lot of places, has seen a lot. Like I said, he’s very positive. He’s going to be an asset for the Browns, both on and off the field.”
Finally, Pettine touched on Manziel and the troubled quarterback’s fit with the team.
“When (Johnny’s) here in the building he’s just one of the guys,” Pettine said. “Certainly, when he’s here he is one of the guys and doesn’t expect treatment any other way. For where he was a year ago as the backup quarterback, he’s in that quarterback room today and you would not consider him the starter. That’s how he’s going to be treated, as well. I know that persona stuff is out there, but if you ask the players — and they’re probably the best ones to ask – I don’t think they see that they feel the need or have ever felt the need to treat him any differently.”
Pettine, like many fans, is ready to see if Manziel is truly ready to change and get his career on track.
“This is the one comment that I’ll share that Johnny’s made because he’ll be the first one to say it — ‘Don’t judge me on my words. Judge me on my actions,’” Pettine said. “That’s something that in the past, even I’ve been critical of him where, ‘Hey, the actions have to match what he’s saying. He’s saying the right things, but it’s not adding up by what he’s doing.’ That’s really been a big part of his message coming out.
“(Johnny’s) very much in our plans, and as we said, his career with us just hit the pause button. We’ve said this before that, ‘(He’s) got to get himself right as a person first before we worry about Johnny the football player.’”
The Cleveland Browns have a lot of work to do before they take the field on Sept. 13 against the New York Jets for the season opener. Next week’s draft, training camp, roster cuts, preseason friendlies, there is much that remains to be done.
It is only after all that is completed and autumn returns to Northeast Ohio that we’ll have the opportunity to judge if all the hard work was worth it.
No one knows that better than Mike Pettine.
What do you think of Pettine’s comments on the current state of the Browns?