Browns bracing for ‘a lot of new faces’ in 2023 after season-ending loss to Steelers
PITTSBURGH — The last view of the Browns as they walked off the field after Sunday’s 28-14 loss at the Pittsburgh Steelers will be much different than the first view of them when training camp opens in July.
“I think I heard one time, I think I was a rookie or something, that every year the turnover is like a 30 or 40% change,” receiver Amari Cooper said after the game. “You know, always see new faces in the building. That’s personnel and player. So I’ve been in the league long enough to know that there will be a lot of new faces next year. I guess everybody will just have to wait and see, including me.”
When training camp opened for the Browns last July, Cooper was one of those new faces. He turned into one of the bright spots on a team that ultimately finished 7-10, including 3-3 over the final six games once quarterback Deshaun Watson — another new face — returned from an 11-game suspension.
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Although Watson and Cooper are almost assuredly back next season, there’s little doubt that changes are coming. That’s both on the roster and on the coaching staff.
“I think every season you go assess that,” safety John Johnson III said. “Take a step back from the game. Obviously you don’t have a game the following week, so you can really get a good look at things, but I’m not sure. I guess we’ll see.”
The roster turnover is normal, considering there will be free agents coming — and draft picks — and free agents going. The coaching turnover, though, will be the more immediate change.
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods remained in his role after the loss in Pittsburgh. However, there remains a strong sense that he, along with likely several defensive assistants, will be let go at some point in the near future.
Pittsburgh continued a trend that carried over the Browns’ final 14 games in which opponents ran seemingly at will on them. The Steelers rushed for 148 yards, while also converting 9-of-15 third downs.
“Yeah, the third downs, you got to get off the field as we know and something we’re able to do the first game versus them. Just didn’t do it enough today on some longer distances, like you mentioned,” coach Kevin Stefanski said. “But the guys fought like crazy and I’m not going to go there on really any of our coaches. This is about today, and I know we’ll talk tomorrow (Monday) about the season, all those things.”
Future of Browns special teams coach Mike Priefer in question
Another question mark to return is special teams coordinator Mike Priefer. The Browns seemed to discover an answer returning kicks over the second half of the season in rookie Jerome Ford, and Donovan Peoples-Jones seemed to do the same for punt returns.
Rookie fourth-round pick Cade York — who was the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after his season-opening game-winner at Carolina — made both point-after kicks against the Steelers, but finished the season 24-of-32 on field goals. Punter Corey Bojorquez averaged 48.5 yards with a net of 38.5 on four punts against Pittsburgh, one week after he was AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance at Washington.
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One individual who doesn’t seem to be on the hot seat, though, is Stefanski. He and general manager Andrew Berry are scheduled to meet with the media for a postseason availability on Monday afternoon, further confirmation he’ll be back for a fourth season.
More confirmation came from within the locker room from the Browns’ senior-most player.
“I think you’ve seen it,” All-Pro left guard Joel Bitonio said. “I think the offense has had times where it’s explosive. I think he’s calm at the right times. He’s a leader of men, he does a good job doing that and I don’t know, at 27-25 over three years, we haven’t been perfect but I think we’re close. And I think one or two games goes the other way this year and you’re in the playoffs, and when you’re in the playoffs you have a chance.”
Browns running back Nick Chubb climbs to a new plateau
Running back Nick Chubb never ceases to amaze his Browns teammates. That’s because he never ceases to amaze with what he’s able to accomplish next.
On Sunday, that accomplishment was to become just the second Browns running back to clear the 1,500-yard rushing plateau. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown had done it before Chubb joined him with a 12-carry, 77-yard performance against the Steelers.
“It was good,” Bitonio said. “We had a limited number of opportunities, but Nick, like I said, I said anything for Chubb, but anything for Nick, anything for Nick. He’s a great player and I love blocking for him.”
Chubb finished the season with 1,525 yards on a career-high 302 carries. His 12 rushing touchdowns matched a career high.
Brutal Browns injuries include Kareem Hunt, Denzel Ward, Jedrick Wills Jr.
It’s probably a good thing the Browns don’t have another game to play for months. Considering the number of injuries they sustained through the course of the day in Pittsburgh, they may have been short some players.
Cornerback Denzel Ward re-aggravated the shoulder injury that had him questionable coming into the game. He only played for the first couple of series before leaving the game.
Linebacker Reggie Ragland left the game with a shoulder injury in the first half. Running back Kareem Hunt left late in the first half to be evaluated for a head injury, but did come back into the game.
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The fourth quarter, though, included two scary moments for players and potential knee injuries. Johnson took a hit to the side of his knee from tight end Connor Heyward with 6:22 remaining that initially looked like it could’ve caused severe knee damage.
“Yeah, I mean, it hurt obviously, but I was about to get up,” said Johnson, who said he was scheduled to get an MRI on the knee Monday. “Everybody just was like stay down, so we just wanted to check on it, but it should be good.”
With less than a minute remaining, left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. remained down after a play, clearly clutching his knee as well. Wills eventually got up and got to the sideline.
After the game, Wills didn’t believe surgery was going to be required on the knee.
“Yeah, at first it was kind of scary because there’s a lot of pain in there,” Wills said. “Of course, it kind of subsided since then, so probably get some ice on it, get put in a brace. Hopefully it’ll feel better tomorrow.”
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This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cleveland Browns bracing for ‘a lot of new faces’ next season