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Cleveland Browns Assistant Coaches: Taking a Look at Kevin Stefanski’s Staff

In less than a month, Kevin Stefanski has put together a solid group of coaches with different experiences, and backgrounds. Here is a quick look at a few.
Cleveland Browns Assistant Coaches

New Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski has been on the job for less than four weeks but has already assembled a solid staff of assistant coaches. There will certainly be more additions in the near future, but Stefanski has put together a solid group of coaches with different ages, experiences, and backgrounds. Here is a quick look at some of them.

Taking a Look at the Cleveland Browns Assistant Coaches


Offensive Coordinator – Alex Van Pelt

Stefanski was rumored to be interested in San Francisco 49ers offensive assistants Mike McDaniel and Mike LaFleur as offensive coordinator, but Van Pelt ended up being his choice. Van Pelt spent the last two seasons as the quarterbacks’ coach for the Cincinnati Bengals and held the same position from 2014-2017 with the Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers had three excellent (and one injured) seasons under Van Pelt and was publicly displeased when the team decided to let Van Pelt go.

Van Pelt also coached running backs in Green Bay, and before that he spent time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills. He does have one year of NFL playcalling experience – 2009, when he was promoted to Buffalo’s offensive coordinator one week before the regular season began.

92.3 The Fan’s Daryl Ruiter reported that Van Pelt is likely to call plays in Cleveland, but that remains to be seen. Whether he is or not, he was brought in for one main reason; to help get Baker Mayfield back on track. The quarterback is coming off a horrible sophomore campaign, after having one of the best rookie seasons of all time. He regressed in every area in 2019, so Van Pelt has his work cut out for him. But at the very least, Van Pelt is an experienced and respected quarterbacks’ coach, unlike Ryan Lindley, who was hired in 2018 solely because of his relationship with former head coach Freddie Kitchens.

Run Game Coordinator/Running Backs – Stump Mitchell

Mitchell was hired in 2019 after two years as running backs’ coach with the New York Jets. Stefanski decided to retain Mitchell because of how well Cleveland’s backfield performed last season. Nick Chubb nearly won the NFL rushing title (and would have if not for Kitchens’ playcalling) despite a terrible run-blocking offensive line and a passing game that never came close to expectations. Kareem Hunt returned from suspension in Week 10 and was effective both running and catching the ball, as well as serving as a lead blocker and a slot receiver. The Browns will be running the ball even more next season, and Stefanski’s wide-zone-based offensive system fits Chubb perfectly, so Mitchell should be able to get some big things out of him.

Pass Game Coordinator/Wide Receivers – Chad O’Shea

O’Shea has coached in the NFL since 2003 but is best known for being the New England Patriots wide receivers’ coach from 2009-2018. Last season, he was the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins but was fired after only one year. O’Shea adds plenty of experience to the Browns staff, and he’ll be tasked with trying to unlock the vast potential of the Odell Beckham Jr./Jarvis Landry duo. Landry had an excellent 2019, with 1,174 yards and six touchdowns, but Beckham Jr. was able to generate just 1,035 yards and four scores. He was dealing with a nagging core injury, but his season was still incredibly disappointing. Adam Henry, who was the pair’s wide receivers’ coach at LSU, is great friends with both players, but sometimes close friendships in sports aren’t good things.

Offensive Line/Senior Offensive Assistant – Bill Callahan

When the Browns hired James Campen as offensive line coach prior to last season, there was a lot of optimism surrounding the move. Campen had spent many years in Green Bay, where he earned a reputation as one of the NFL’s best offensive line coaches. He helped players like David Bakhtiari, Bryan Bulaga, and others become elite lineman. Cleveland had a great interior line, but poor tackles. Greg Robinson improved slightly, but Chris Hubbard regressed. Kevin Zeitler was also traded prior to the season, which opened the door for Austin Corbett, the 33rd pick in 2018, to start at right guard. Instead, he ended up being passed up on the depth chart by multiple players and ended up being traded for a future sixth-round pick.

Still, when Campen was fired by Stefanski, there was some outrage. At least, there was until it was announced that his replacement would be Bill Callahan. Callahan has head coaching experience and has some of the best offensive lines in the league, including the Dallas Cowboys of the early-to-mid-2010’s. The Browns are likely to replace both starting tackles, with at least one of those likely to be a rookie first-round pick. Callahan will have the tall task of molding young talent on the line to protect Mayfield.


Defensive Coordinator – Joe Woods

Nothing can be official until after the Super Bowl, but all signs point to 49ers defensive backs coach Joe Woods becoming Cleveland’s new defensive coordinator. His work with the Niners secondary has been impressive, but not surprising since he coached his entire starting secondary to the Pro Bowl while he was the defensive backs coach in Denver. He was the Broncos defensive coordinator in 2017 and 2018, having taken over for the departed Wade Phillips, and led the defense to two solid, if unspectacular seasons.

Woods was with the Vikings from 2006-2013, so he knows Stefanski quite well. He seems like a good fit experience and scheme-wise for a few reasons. Woods has found the most success as a defensive backs coach, and the Browns have two young and talented cornerbacks in Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams. Ward was Pro Bowler as a rookie but wasn’t as good in 2019, although injuries certainly contributed to that. Williams struggled for the majority of the year. Both players are very fast and thrived as press-man corners in college, but have shown less of an affinity in zone, and neither is good in run support. Woods uses almost exclusively man coverage, which is good for Ward and Williams, although Woods must make sure to use a balance of man and zone; his defense will become predictable and easy to beat otherwise.

Woods also runs a 3-4 under system using a standup defensive end as one of the four linebackers. Assuming Oliver Vernon remains on the team, both he and Myles Garrett can fill that role. It may make more sense to have Vernon as the standup end, since Garrett is closer to the physical profile of a prototype 3-4 DE, and Vernon played in 3-4 system in New York and Miami.

An area of intrigue under Woods will be defensive tackle and the other end spot. Larry Ogunjobi had a very good rookie season, but his play the last two seasons has left much to be desired, despite his good sack numbers (13 total). He especially struggles in run defense, which is something a 3-4 nose tackle simply cannot do. Sheldon Richardson was not very consistent but was overall much better than Ogunjobi. Both players fit better in a 4-3, so it remains to be seen what will happen. Due to injuries, Richardson was playing as an end quite a bit towards the end of last season, and the results were poor from a pass-rushing standpoint, so having him play defensive end in 2020 may not be the best idea.

Pass Game Coordinator/Defensive Backs – Jeff Howard

Howard held multiple positions with the Vikings from 2013-2019, so he is familiar with Stefanski, and did spend one year with Woods. Howard’s impact is less clear than Woods but looking at his work with Minnesota, the Vikings had elite safety play even though their cornerbacks were not nearly as good. Xavier Rhodes, one of the league’s elite cover men three seasons ago, has fallen off a cliff since.

The Browns need help at safety, and given the terrible cap situation Minnesota is in, they may be unable to re-sign Anthony Harris, an elite safety. Perhaps Cleveland will have an interest in free agency.

Special Teams

Special Teams Coordinator – Mike Preifer

In 2018, under Amos Jones, the Browns had the NFL’s second-worst special teams unit according to DVOA. Preifer was let go by the Vikings and hired by Cleveland. Preifer improved the unit to 15th, quite a drastic change, made even more impressive by the fact that the Browns kicker and punter were both rookies. Given Stefanski’s familiarity with Preifer and how much better Cleveland played under him, it made perfect sense to retain him.

It doesn’t really mean anything unless the team actually plays better, but the 2019 Browns coaching staff appears to be much more cohesive than in 2018. It’s obvious that Stefanski was given the ability to hire his own assistants, as opposed to last year when former general manager John Dorsey hired coaches for Kitchens. There is no guarantee things work out any better. But at the very least, there is more structure in the coaching staff now, and hopefully, that will reflect on the performance of the players.

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