BEREA, Ohio (AP)Jadeveon Clowney finally introduced himself to new teammates. Odell Beckham Jr. looked further along in his speedy recovery following reconstructive knee surgery. Coach Kevin Stefanski received another award for a 2020 season not to be forgotten.
And center JC Tretter, also the NFLPA president, said players have a stronger voice about their health and safety and thinks offseason training camps could be forever changed.
All of the Browns – veterans, rookies, offense, defense, the vaccinated and unvaccinated – got back to work Tuesday as the team began its three-day minicamp while moving a little closer to a season Cleveland fans can’t wait to start.
It was the first time Stefanski has seen Clowney in uniform since the Browns signed the defensive end as a free agent this winter to pair with All-Pro Myles Garrett.
It was also his first on-field glimpse look of Beckham, who missed the final 10 games last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He had surgery in November.
”He looked good to me,” Stefanski said on a Zoom call after practice. ”He did some individual drills. He did routes on air. He’s still progressing through. I think he’s seven or eight months post-ACL surgery, and he looks a lot different than I did seven or eight months post-ACL.”
Stefanski said Beckham’s status for training camp will be determined over the next few weeks, but the sight of No. 13 running and cutting was welcomed by the Browns, who managed to end their long playoff drought in 2020 and beat Pittsburgh in the wild-card round without him.
Beckham was one of a number of Cleveland players – most of them offensive – who did not participate in the recent OTAs. In April, at the urging of Tretter and the union, players from more than 20 teams said they would exercise their rights in collective bargaining and not attend the voluntary workouts, a decision that probably rankled some coaches.
But Tretter said Stefanski was understanding and handled the offseason properly, and that players across the league feel empowered.
”I think this was the first time in a long time players felt like they actually had a choice, and I think we created an environment that allowed guys to make a clear, honest decision of whether they should attend,” he said.
Tretter, who is fully vaccinated, said concerns over COVID-19 spread was the impetus in taking a harder look at offseason programs. He’s cited statistical data showing a 23% reduction in missed-time injuries and a 30% decrease in concussions last season when the league enacted protocols to complete the season.
Tretter said giving players the choice on how they spend their offseason is long overdue, and he’s glad coaches and teams are beginning to see it that way, too.
”Players in general knew that the offseason programs were getting out of hand and the intensity was being ramped up and becoming more and more dangerous,” he said. ”I think what COVID did was allow us to see and/or feel what the change would be like.
”The players know how their bodies feel. We are very in tune with that. When the vast majority are saying that little wear and tear that we get rid of by getting rid of the offseason that makes our bodies feel significantly better by the end of the season, that is good, and that is what we fight for.”
After players met with Stefanski, the Browns modified their OTAs, holding no on-field workouts the first week and then seven practices over the next two. Stefanski described the practices as ”passing camps.”
”We know the type of guy Kevin is and this organization,” said Tretter, who skipped the OTAs to work out with his fellow offensive linemen. ”So we knew he wasn’t going to kill us. He was going to have a pretty good program put into place. And once we saw it, it was just each person’s decision under the CBA that they could either volunteer to go or volunteer not to go.”
Tretter said his decision was a no-brainer.
”I know if I go to OTAs at this point, there’s really only two things that can happen,” he said. ”One, I’m going to have more wear and tear on my joints. That’s not great for me. And two, I have an increased likelihood of a season-ending injury by practicing.”
The pace of Tuesday’s workout was noticeably slower, and Stefanski said that was by design.
”I think the days of going full speed in those periods, it just does not make sense,” he said. ”There is injury data to back that up, and just thinking about helmets and shoulders, the guys are not wearing shoulder pads so it is hard to protect themselves.”
NOTES: Stefanski said suspended chief of staff Callie Brownson will be back with the team by training camp. She was arrested last month on drunken driving charges. … At the start of his Zoom call, Stefanski was presented with the coach of the year award by the Pro Football Writers of America. He credited his players. ”They never blinked,” he said. ”They made me look good.”
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