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Browns at the Bye: GM Andrew Berry talks Deshaun Watson, roster moves, position breakdowns during week off

Andrew Berry
Deshaun Watson
Posted at 1:30 PM, Oct 04, 2023

BEREA, Ohio — The Browns have an early bye week, only having played four games before getting their week off to reset, rest, heal, and most importantly, evaluate themselves heading into the rest of their season. General Manager Andrew Berry held his Bye Week press conference on Wednesday, and the session that ran close to an hour was full of information about the state of the team.

Here's a breakdown of the Browns at the bye during Berry's media availability.

Deshaun Watson's shoulder

Deshaun Watson

The talk of the town is quarterback Deshaun Watson's shoulder injury that saw him limited in practice all week, listed as questionable before the game, and sidelined after a quick warmup Sunday against the Ravens. All week long there was optimism and confidence that Watson would play. But when he was inactive on Sunday and rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson got the start, it took many by surprise.

RELATED: Why Browns QB Deshaun Watson not playing against Ravens was so surprising

Head coach Kevin Stefanski said the day after the game that Watson was medically cleared and his shoulder was structurally fine. He also said it wasn't pain that was limiting Watson.

"He’s played through serious pain before, very, very serious injuries. It wasn’t a matter of pain tolerance or anything. He just did not feel like he had his full faculties," Stefanski said.

On Wednesday in Berea, Berry reiterated that, but cooled the talks of it being a total surprise.

“I think Deshaun, like I said, he was truly doing everything in his power to play. We were all optimistic because he made a ton of progress throughout the week going from really not being able to raise his arm to where he was on Sunday and he is super competitive. This is a guy who bussed 12 hours so he could play with a punctured lung as a starting quarterback. So there's no doubt in terms of his resolve or his toughness or his desire to be on the field with his teammates," Berry said.

Berry said that during the warm-ups Sunday morning it "became obvious to all of us that he couldn't throw or drive the ball well enough to perform in the game." The general manager said that it was a "very easy decision" to not put Watson out there, and while the decision was Watson's to make about his abilities, the team was behind it as well.

On Wednesday, Berry also said the team doesn't view Watson's shoulder as a long-term issue and that it will "heal in the short term and he'll be ready to go." With Watson back in Houston for the bye week, Berry said the quarterback is rehabbing and resting as he works to be ready to take on the San Francisco 49ers in Week 6.

Trades coming? Contract talks?

Nick Chubb
(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Berry isn't one to talk details about roster moves or contract negotiations. He declined to talk about extensions for guys like Grant Delpit, who is having a strong season but did praise his efforts.

In terms of running back Nick Chubb—who is entering the last year of his contract while also now faced with a long rehab for an MCL surgery and upcoming ACL surgery—Berry said his contract is not where their focus is.

"Our focus with Nick is ensuring that we are supporting him and enabling him to be as healthy as possible in this early rehab period. We want him to get off to a good start so he can be the Nick Chubb that we are accustomed to seeing when he gets over this. I'm not going to bet against Nick Chubb. In terms of all the other stuff. Honestly, our focus on the season and making sure that he's healthy, there'll be plenty of time to figure that stuff out and talk about that stuff, but that's really not the focus right now," Berry said.

When it comes to bringing in more talent, perhaps to offset the loss of players like Chubb, Berry played it close to the vest, as he always does.

The Browns front office is very adamant about being aggressive at the trade deadline, which comes at the end of the month, but also exploring every avenue and window to make the team better—through trades and free agent signings.

Berry shared how the front office navigates the trade market.

"We have a weekly trade meeting within our front office group. We go through different ideas, go through different situations for opportunities that may or may not present itself. Honestly, that's what prompted the trade for Pierre earlier in the season, Dustin, things like that. So when I say that we're always canvassing and thinking through the trade market, it really is true. But in terms of maybe how you become a little bit more targeted or where those calls go or how aggressively you pursue, sometimes there is a bit of a timing element," Berry said.

Defensive dominance

Myles Garrett Joe Burrow sack
Browns DE Myles Garrett celebrates after sacking Bengals QB Joe Burrow.

It's no secret the strongest part of the Browns four weeks into the season is the defense. Over the first three games, the Browns' defense ranked top in the NFL. From passing yards allowed to rushing yards allowed, points allowed, and overall effectiveness, the unit stood out as elite.

Even against the Ravens where the Browns gave up 28 points, equal to the points they had given up through the first three games combined, the defense moved through some early struggles and adjusted at the half.

From Myles Garrett's 5.5 sacks through four games, to the five tackles for loss from Ogbo Okoronkwo and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, to Grant Delpit's interception and Denzel Ward and MJ Emerson with five and three passes defended, respectively—the Browns entire defensive unit has been a force.

The new mindset embraced by the defense is aided by some changes the Browns made this offseason— bringing in some new talent and hiring defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz,

Berry raved about the impact Schwartz has had on the unit early into the season.

"I think that his approach of aggressiveness, disruption, generating every play, and quite honestly dictating to the offense, is awesome. It's refreshing and it's style of football that our guys really embrace and probably just as importantly have fun playing in," Berry said. "The other thing about Jim is he embraces personality. I think we see that on a weekly basis because our defense may have no less than a hundred choreographed celebrations. I don't even know where they come up with it, so I think that's really cool because that's something he wants guys to play with passion and be themselves, and I think that that's something that really endears him to the guys quite frankly.”

The guys celebrating certainly have a hand in the success of the defense, and while Garrett has always made an impact for the Browns, having some new faces along the line and in the secondary has made it that much more explosive this year.

Berry praised the secondary on their abilities to play string in man coverage and their physical nature that pairs well with the versatility throughout the roster. Specifically, though, Berry talked about Okoronkwo and Za'Darius Smith, who he called "energizer bunnies" for the defense.

"Z and Ogbo, they're awesome. They're like energizer bunnies on a daily basis. They love playing, they love practicing. They both work incredibly hard. They love playing in the scheme because they get to pin their ears back and go. I think it's been pretty neat to see the synergy not just between those two, but that whole defensive line group. Z gives us a ton of flexibility with his ability to rush inside and outside. Ogbo gives us flexibility because he can rush on the edge, he can come from a two-point stance. And they're a little bit like thunder and lightning. Z's really more of a power rusher and Ogbo can really win with speed. So they've really added a lot upfront to us," Berry said.

The good and bad of the offensive line

Dawand Jones

During his media availability, Berry discussed the offensive line—a unit once thought to be the strength of the team. While there's plenty of talent along the line, this season has seen its fair share of struggles.

Berry did note that offensively the team has had a roller coaster of a season. But in terms of protection on the line, wouldn't put the blame squarely on the tackles or anyone on the line—noting it's a team effort.

"I think that just overall the offense has been a bit up and down. I think when you think about protection, it's not just the offensive line, it's really everybody. It's the quarterbacks depth, it's the route combination, it's the backs, it's the tight ends. And that's something that among several other things that we haven't been as consistent with," Berry said.

However, the Browns did see some changes to the line this year. Right tackle Jack Conklin was lost for the season after sustaining a knee injury in the first week. That moved fourth-round draft pick rookie Dawand Jones into a starting role. The 6'8", 374-pound lineman had a big task thrown on his plate—one that Berry commends him for embracing so well.

"Dawand has taken advantage of every resource that we've had within the organization and I think particularly for that young man, the way he came into the organization with a lot of the, what I would say, anonymous criticism, kind of attacking his work ethic, his character, things like that—he really has been fantastic. He's done a really, really nice job for us and he should be commended for coming in and being prepared when his number was called much earlier than any of us anticipated," Berry said.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the offensive line, fourth-year left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. has not had quite the same experience. Wills has struggled this season., allowing two sacks and 18 pressures.

Berry addressed Wills' struggles, confident that as the season goes on, the left tackle will improve.

“I think Jed would be the first to tell you that he hasn't played as consistently as he knows he's capable of playing and he's capable of playing better, he will play better. He's obviously going to be an important piece for us moving forward," Berry said.

QBs and their weapons

Dorian Thompson-Robinson
Cleveland Browns quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson passes during the second half of a preseason NFL football game against the Washington Commanders on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

On a broader scale, the Browns' entire offense has had its ups and downs through the first four games of the season. Week 1 was hampered by a strange misty drizzle that changed how both the Browns and Bengals' offenses could operate. Week 2 in Pittsburgh, Watson had a horrible game and made numerous bad decisions. In week 3 against the Titans, Watson bounced back and showed how explosive he can be in a game that impressed. Week 4, Watson's injury saw Thompson-Robinson get his first NFL start—which did not go how anyone had hoped.

When it comes to Thompson-Robinson, Berry remained confident in his ability to grow and develop. He said that he doesn't expect major changes in the QB room, solidifying Thompson-Robinson as the No. 2 backup despite the rocky start.

Berry said the team is still confident in the room, even after trading veteran Joshua Dobbs to the Cardinals before the season started. That decision, Berry said, made sense for the team, and while Thompson-Robinson is still learning, this is all a good lesson for the young quarterback.

"There is a saying that I love: 'Experience is a hard teacher because it gives the test first and the lesson afterward,' and I felt like certainly, any rookie quarterback could probably attest during their first start that that is the case. Certainly challenging circumstances, but I know Dorian's not making any excuses for it," Berry said. "We all look at what we could have done differently to support him, but we'll continue to work, we'll grow from it, we'll learn from it and we'll move forward with them."

Outside of the quarterback position, Berry addressed a number of topics, like the use of wide receiver Elijah Moore, who he called one of the "better playmakers on the roster." From adjusting the offense as the season goes on to allow the offense to play to the strengths of each individual, there's a lot the Browns are looking at during the bye week.

The Browns hope to find Moore's "niche" within the offense. They expect to see a boost in big plays from running back Jerome Ford and an increase in production from Kareem Hunt as he adjusts to being back in NFL action.

But they also hope that the offense comes together to be more effective and consistent on a weekly basis.

Offensive effectiveness

Screenshot 2023-10-04 at 12.29.31 PM.png

That comes down to rolling with punches and allowing the offense to click.

Berry talked about some of the adversities the Browns have faced but noted that that's something they hope to be better for in the long run. That improvement starts this week.

"Offensively, we're really looking forward to using this bye week to really return to the level of consistency and the standard that Kevin has really set there on that side of the ball since he's been here in 2020. And no doubt with having Deshaun for a full season, losing Nick, losing Jack Conklin, that it'll look different than we've been accustomed to seeing over the first three years. But we have no doubt that not only we'll be able to meet but kind of exceed the standard that we've seen the first three years that Kevin has been the head coach here," Berry said.

With the defense rolling, and the special teams unit giving strong efforts (especially kicker Dustin Hopkins who is 8-for-9 in his field goal attempts with three over 50 yards), the Browns have one major focus for the offense to get the team playing complementary football throughout the rest of the season:

Taking care of the ball.

Offensively, the Browns are focused at the bye week on preventing interceptions and fumbles, not turning the ball over and maximizing time of possession. Through the first four games, the Browns have given the ball away 10 times and are -7 in the turnover margin.

Stefanski has said that taking care of the ball is of utmost importance for the offense. Berry couldn't have agreed more.

"Number one through five would be ball security. That is the number one thing that we have to correct. The primary focus, again, we have 10 turnovers in four games, we put five more balls on the ground that weren't covered, recovered by the opponent that alone, and that doesn't mean that we're perfect in every area, no different than any team at this point in the season, but that alone, minimizing that or getting that back to an acceptable standard will make a huge difference," Berry said.

The Browns are 2-2 on the season. At the bye week, there's not a large sample size for the team to analyze. That's one of the downsides of an early bye.

"From a data perspective for your coaching staff, the situational samples, the tendency stuff, it's really noisy just because you're dealing with such a small number of plays when you just kind of slice it up. So you have to be careful and probably take some of the items with a little bit of a grain of salt. Usually, when you get middle of the year or later in the year, you have just kind of this nice robust set of plays or situations where you can really analyze it and get something a bit more prescriptive. So that nuance is a little bit more challenging," Berry shared.

But with the injuries the team has dealt with and the early ups and downs, this might be the perfect time for a week off.

The Browns will enjoy this week off while continuing to evaluate the many topics and areas Berry addressed on Wednesday.

Then, it's back to Berea for preparations as the 49ers head to Cleveland in what could be one of the Browns' biggest challenges of the season. But until then, it's about rest and relaxation during this very early bye week.

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