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Here's what coach Mike Pettine is saying about the Browns today

By Nate Ulrich Published: September 3, 2014

Browns coach Mike Pettine met with reporters Wednesday before practice. Below is a transcript from the news conference provided by the team.

Opening statement: “This is an exciting time for us. This is a lot of time we’ve put in to come down to this week. When I got hired, I just talked about just being back in the AFC North and what that meant. We we’re excited when the schedule came out. I know people say, ‘Be careful what you ask for,’ but I don’t think there’s any better test to kind of see where we are as a team, as a program, then to go down to play at Heinz Field. It’s a challenge that we’re looking forward to. I have a great deal of respect for (Steelers Head Coach) Mike Tomlin and his staff. I know those guys will be well prepared. It’s going to be a big challenge for us, but we’re looking forward to it.”

On if any members of the Pettine family from Pennsylvania are Steeler fans: “East coast, eastern side of the state – that’s the big part of… Most of the Pettine clan comes from near Philly. They’re Eagles fans more so than Pittsburgh, but there are a lot of ties there. You just look at the staff. I coached at University of Pittsburgh for a while, lived there. I got married there, had a first child there, have some definite ties back to Pittsburgh. There is some family there. Worked with (linebackers) Coach (Chuck) Driesbach at Pitt; (secondary) Coach (Jeff) Hafley, (tight ends) Coach (Brian) Angelichio, guys that were there. There are some strong Pitt connections, not just with the staff but with the players, as well.”

On if he feels that the Steelers’ praise of QB Johnny Manziel from the Steelers is an attempt to bait the Browns into playing him: “I just think they were asked their opinion, and if that’s their motivation, that’s their motivation. We have our game plan set for how we’ll play this game, and we’ll see how it plays out. I don’t get into whether it’s gamesmanship or whatever you want to call it. I know that gets read into sometimes. Somebody makes some comments whether heaping praise on someone you kind of interpret it a certain way. I didn’t see it that way at all.”

On if he will play Manziel on Sunday against the Steelers: “I’m not going to talk about any [of that]. Once we get to the point where we formulate a game plan, anything that would put us at a competitive disadvantage and any game plan stuff, I’ll feel free to talk about it afterwards.”

On if his first regular season game as a head coach has him amped up: “It is. It’ll be special. I’ve been in that stadium a bunch and probably haven’t had the result that I’ve wanted most of the time. I’ve been a part of some wins there, and there’s nothing like going there and competing. I think Pittsburgh’s a great football town. Like I said, I lived there, was part of it for a while, whether it was for the college or especially for the Steelers. I just see the passion, the loyalty. To me, it reminds me a lot of our fan base, as well. It’s a crowd when they get behind the team and they’re rocking and rolling. It makes it very difficult on a visitor. As far as I’m concerned, I’m excited, but I can’t be a part of it. I think a big part of coaching is getting those nerves to settle down and just settle into the game and stay focused, then just, ‘Hey, whatever happens, happens.’”

On what to expect in regards to his coaching style, and if he’ll be throwing things on the sideline: “Hopefully, the only thing I throw is a challenge flag, if need be. I try to stay reasonably calm during games. I can’t promise that. Going back to when I was a high school coach, I didn’t probably have as good of control on my emotions as I wanted to, and I blame my dad. I tell him I learned from the best. I think the players will reflect just kind of the personality of their leadership, and we want our guys to be focused and intense and competitive. I think it’s tough when a coach kind of loses his mind a little bit. Then, it’s hard to tell the players, ‘Hey, keep it together.’ At the same time, if something happens that I felt that one of our players is put at risk, then I’ll respond accordingly.”

On what his philosophy is on selling out to go 1-0 and on teams that win their first game having a better chance to go to the playoffs: “I’ve never been one to sit and try to predict wins and say, ‘Hey, listen, this is our plan to go 10-6. This is our plan to go 12-4.’ We’ve put all of our effort and energy into going 1-0. If that works out, then we’ll put all of our effort and energy into going 2-0. This is a long season. I know what the stats are about the opener, but I don’t think you can get consumed with that. More importantly for us, it’s a division game. When people talk about, ‘Hey, a division game’s worth one and a half or it’s worth two’ – I truly believe that. For us to accomplish what we want to accomplish, it goes through the division, and I think most people would agree – maybe Baltimore and Cincinnati would disagree – the road through the AFC North really does travel through Pittsburgh. I think it’s an important game on a lot of fronts. I think more gets put into it because it’s the one game you’re looking forward to that entire offseason. You probably do a little bit more work on it, probably over-prepare for it, but we don’t want to have the smoke clear from it and just be spent. It is a long year, and we’ll be ready. We just have to get into that good rhythm of ‘Hey, we put it all out there on Sunday’ and find a way to regroup by mid-week and then it’s onto the next one.”

On if he feels the Browns can compete to win the AFC North: “I do. I just think you cannot be a NFL coach and not believe that. I think it’s important that you’re confident through your preparation, and I don’t think an NFL coach would have gotten to where he is without having that belief that ‘Hey, we can put together.’ There’s a reason ‘any given Sunday’ is a cliché because I believe it’s true. I’ve been in the league long enough to know that any team can beat any other team when the plan is right, the circumstances are right. For whatever it is, that fine line between winning and losing, your team does the right things to put you on the right side of it. I would never sit up here and say I don’t think we can compete in this division. That’s the way the NFL is built. It is a win-now business, and I truly believe that.”

On if he brought anybody in to talk about the history of the Browns and Steelers or if he’s treating it like any other game: “I researched the history and I talked to the players about it. It’s not pretty. I’ll be honest with you: I put it up on the slide to kind of talk our young guys through, the guys that don’t know the history. I put ‘rivalry’ and I put a question mark. From the Steelers standpoint, it’s not much of a rivalry. You look at one win at Heinz Field in 14 tries, two wins in the last seven years, five wins in the last 36 times against them. It’s brutal when you truly look at it, but that’s something that’s a big part of our prep is understanding that that has nothing to do with us. That has nothing to do with this game. That has nothing to do with us moving forward. That was our message back in the spring when we said, ‘Hey, recognize the history, but break off the rear view mirror.’ This is just another way to prove that. I think it’s important that we understand that the rivalry is important, but at the same time we’ve got to find ways to get it flipped. If you go back a long time ago the numbers probably were the other direction, but in recent history it hasn’t been close. That’s something why I said we’ll find out where we stand and see how much ground we’ve made up on the division and particularly on Pittsburgh when we go down there Sunday.”

On who would be the emergency quarterback in the Pittsburgh game: “I won’t get into details on that. We have a plan if we do have to go to a third, but that’s just something… Again – any information I feel would put us at a competitive disadvantage, I’ll hold onto.”

On what he hopes the pressure that was on QB Brian Hoyer does for him going forward: “I think it was good to put both those guys in pressure situations. If you go through the preseason and everything’s easy, I’ve seen teams that have gone through an easy preseason where they’re 4-0 or 3-1 and never really challenged, and all of a sudden, you get into the brutal reality of the season things are very different. These guys were in pressure situations in practice. They were in pressure situations in the preseason games, and those are all learning experiences. We’re looking forward to taking that next step, not just with Brian but everybody else to go out against one of the elite defenses in the NFL, playing in their stadium. We understand that’s a tall task, but being successful in the NFL, you have to be poised. You have to be confident, and you have to be able to handle adversity. There are going to be plays that clearly don’t go our way on Sunday. How do we respond to those? Do we, ‘Hey is it same-old Browns, and we just curl up in a ball?’ Or is it, ‘Hey, we’re going to get up and we’re going to come back swinging?’”

On where the Browns offense is right now compared to where he hopes it will be later in the season: “It should be better later in the season just by naturally getting game reps. I don’t like using the phrase ‘work in progress,’ but that’s truly what it is. We’re more than functional with it, and it’s been nice to be able to finally take that huge inventory, that volume of installation in that thick playbook and be able to trim it down to specifically match an opponent’s defense. Guys aren’t studying 60, 70, 80 concepts. It’s more 30 or 40, where they can just dial in and know, ‘Hey these are the three or four coverages we could get. This is the guy that I have to beat.’ It’s so much more opponent-specific. That’s where I think we’ll see some improvement, that it’s not as high of volume as it has been throughout the spring and training camp.”

On coaching points that he’s given to the defense specific to Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger: “He’s a guy that the play’s never over, and I think that’s important. We would always tell our guys that the play begins when he makes the first guy miss. He just has that uncanny ability, and it’s one of the reasons he’s one of the league’s elite quarterbacks. Just physically, guys have a hard time bringing him down, and even just how many throws has he made with guys just hanging on him. It’s important that the guys on the backend understand that just covering the conventional route, the play’s not over, then a lot of times it’ll turn into, essentially, street ball where he gets out of the pocket and guys break off routes. I think they’re the best in the league at it. It’s something that I think early on in his career he did a lot of that, but he’s become more of a true pocket passer. He doesn’t have to extend plays as much just because he knows the read. He’ll take what the defense gives him, but he still has that ability when things break down to get out and make some plays. We went through it last year in Buffalo. We were playing him pretty tough, and then in the second quarter, there was one where he was going down and just kind of flipped it sideways to the running back who was in pass protection. Next thing you know, it was a 30-yard gain and led to a touchdown. Those are the types of things you have to try to limit. I don’t know if you can stop him, but you have to have that awareness of his ability to extend the play.

On if he hopes Manziel can extend plays in the future like Roethlisberger is able to: “I think they’re different, just the stature. I think that Ben has the ability with guys hanging on him, the difference in size. I think in theory we’re talking about the same thing, his ability to make guys miss in the pocket and get out of it. I think Ben’s a good example of a guy that did a lot of that early, and then teams started to just kind of collapse the pocket and say, ‘You know what, let’s force this guy to throw from the pocket.’ Where his career took off is when he had the ability to do that, that he could stick in the pocket and beat you. Then, when teams got a little reckless on him he got out and had that ability to extend plays. I think even though they’re different body types, that’s a learning curve you hope to see Johnny go through at some point, as well.”

On what OL Joe Thomas means to the team and on how good he is: “Consummate pro. He’s smart. He’s tough, very athletic. He’s stayed in this league for as long as he has because he is a professional – knows how to take care of himself, knows how to prepare, extremely smart. I know there’s a lot of good give-and-take feedback-wise in the offensive line room, and also with (offensive coordinator) Kyle (Shanahan). He’s a guy that I think it’s great for him that he’s playing next to a rookie in (OL Joel) Bitonio; that he’ll be able to help him, as well. That’s good having Joel kind of sandwhiched between him and (OL Alex) Mack. Joe’s a guy that we admired him from afar. We knew that was going to be a tough matchup for whoever was going against him, and he’s lived up to all of our expectations and then some since we’ve been here.”

On if he looks at Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and thinks he still has 30 years to go: “Yeah, that’s amazing. Every time I see him, too, it’s just like I can’t believe that guy is closer to 80 than 70. He’s just one of those guys. It’s amazing how he’s lasted, his ability to adapt over the years, to change his coaching style and change his system to kind of match, to keep up with the times. You get some coaches that kind of have their prime, and then when the game changes on them, they can’t keep up. They can’t adapt, and that’s where he’s been special over the years. He’s a Hall of Fame defensive coordinator. He’s a guy that we went against when we were in Baltimore, a handful of times in New York, and you knew you were always in for a long day when you went against him just because they were going to be not only well-coached from a fundamental standpoint – they were going to get off blocks and tackle – but they were going to be pretty cutting edge scheme-wise too.”

On how much he’s heard from the fans to beat the Steelers: “I talked to the team about it the other day. The division is one of those where I think all three games are great rivalries – Baltimore for obvious reasons. I was on the other end of that. Then, the battle of Ohio, it’s one where Cincinnati’s a big game as well. I don’t know if there’s another division where all three games carry a good amount of significance. I just think Steeler week for a lot of teams is special. Might not be rivalries to them, but I think there are a lot of teams that Pittsburgh’s one of those teams that I think everybody kind of circles on their schedule because of their history.”

On where he thinks Hoyer is mentally and physically with his knee and on his chemistry with the offensive players going into the Pittsburgh game: “I think it’s all arrows up. I think he’s improving with it, just the more reps he gets. I think the ability here to take a game plan and tighten it down, he’s not responsible for that whole catalog. Those guys can really get dialed in on specific routes and how they’re going to play out. I thought last week was good for him. Since we named him [the starter], I just think he’s improved each day. I think this will be a good week for him, too, to get another solid bank of reps today, tomorrow and Friday. We’ll walk through on Saturday. I’m looking forward to see Brian go down there and compete.”

On his comments in training camp about wanting his players to stay scared and always feeling the need to compete to keep their jobs, and if he’s had a conversation with QB Brian Hoyer about not looking over his shoulder: “I qualified that and said quarterback is the one position where you can’t be as quick on that trigger. When we met to discuss him being the starter, it was, ‘Hey, this is your team. This is your offense.’ That we have his back. That we didn’t go with him and just say, ‘Hey listen, we might do this and see how it goes. Then after a series, we might switch it back.’ I don’t think you can do that at quarterback. I know you can’t do that at quarterback. Some others, it’s different. You do want your guys running a little scared. There’s no better motivator than competition. I just think any time you feel secure and comfortable at a spot, you’re not going to perform as well, and if you’re not performing well because there’s competition, you probably don’t have the makeup to be in the NFL to begin with. Brian is a guy who – I had a good conversation with him – he knows it’s not going to be a quick hook, but he also knows that in the long-run, this is a production business. You have to produce or there will be a change made, but I don’t think he’s going into this game feeling that. I think he’s fully focused on Pittsburgh and being productive.”

On how as a head coach he balances being a production business, but also making sure he gives his quarterback the confidence that he needs: “Just make sure he knows that. That’s why I do qualify that when I say that with the quarterbacks. I think that’s one position where you do have to make a longer term commitment. It’s not, ‘Hey listen, here are the keys for the season.’ We’ll always be in evaluation mode, and when you see things start to trend a certain way and you have to make a decision, then you make one. I think you can be a little bit quicker with the other spots. It is a fine line I think you have to walk as a coach. You don’t want to just say, ‘Hey, here it is, and we’re just going to blindly go with it no matter what.’ Each week, you’ll still sit down when the smoke clears from the week before and say, ‘OK, where are we? How do we match up against this team? Who are the 11 guys on offense, the 11 guys on defense that we can put out there that are going to give us the best chance to win?’ If you finally come to that conclusion with the quarterback, that it’s different, then you go ahead and have to make a move. I just think you have to have more patience there than at other spots.”

On ESPN analyst Merril Hoge blasting Manziel on a Pittsburgh radio station: “Where did he play again?”

On Hoge saying Manziel has no business being on the field, no business being a first-round pick and that his text during the draft to the Browns QB coach shows he’s a juvenile punk: “I mean, somebody asked me before, read me a comment about what (CBS Sports analyst) Boomer (Esiason) said. He’s entitled to that. I get that. I don’t want to sit here and respond to individual reports. I don’t have a relationship with him. I don’t think I’ve ever met him. That’s something, I don’t want to be in that business of responding to individual criticism. I just know there are – in the age that we’re in of sensationalism – a lot of times people that want to be heard have to make bold statements in order to bring attention to them. That’s something that I think is a regular occurrence in this league.”

On if he’s reached out to his dad at all for any advice this week: “Yeah, we talk. He sends me some e-mails that are pretty entertaining as he’s watching the film. These are the busy days of the week for us as a staff. As things calm down and we’ve formulated the plan, he and I will talk as the week goes on. He still has a great eye for the game. The stuff that he sends, sometimes how it’s written it annoys you a little bit, but he’s right. Most of the time, he’s right. I don’t want to tell him he’s right all the time, but most of the time, he’s right. A lot of the time, it’s confirmation. A lot of it is stuff we’ve either stressed to our guys or addressed, but it’s good to kind of hear it from somebody who’s outside of it, who’s involved, but not too involved. It’s kind of like the forest through the trees thing. It’s good to have that outside opinion.”

On what type of advice he’s giving him: “He was always a guy that football is a game of a million little things. There’s nothing magical. A lot of it is just small detail stuff. It’s from A to Z. It’s from motivation. It’s from offense. It’s from special teams. It’s defensive stuff. It’s practice habits. It’s across the board.”

On how he feels the defense is right now as far as the new system marrying with the players: “If you talk to those guys, it’s a confident group. I think it’s – again, a phrase I’ve used before – confidence through being prepared. I think this is a group that studies, that understands it, that gets it. They’ve soaked it in faster than I think we anticipated. We’ve been able to get to some higher-level things quicker, but it still comes down to playing and executing. That’s where I think our coaches do a great job. We never want to stray too far from the fundamentals that our guys have bought in on how we’re going to roll off up from, how we’re going to use our hands and release from blocks and then, the defensive backs with covering more with their feet than with their hands, especially in light of the points of emphasis this year. Crunch time is a big thing for us, and a lot of times you don’t know who you’re going to play until you get into that when your adrenaline is going and your heart is pumping. How are guys going to respond? The trademark of a great defense is that we want to thrive in those situations, whether it’s third down, whether it’s two-minute, whether it’s in the red zone. All those situations that we’ve preached throughout, those are the ones that we’re going to truly keep an eye on. I don’t get the stats as far as totals. To me, points are number one, and then you look at those special situations to make sure you’re where you should be.”

On Week 1 in the NFL being a little sloppier and a little more unpredictable, and if that plays to the advantage of a team that has a new head coach and a new system, or if it plays more to an advantage of a team that has had those things established: “That’s hard to answer. That can go either way. I can see the argument that they’re not really sure. I think there’s enough history on tape of what we did in Buffalo and New York that the Steelers are probably comfortable with what they’ve practiced against and what we’ve shown in the preseason. Kyle (Shanahan’s) system, I’m sure they’ve watched the (Redskins quarterback) RG3 (Robert Griffin III) stuff, all the stuff in Washington and Kyle, the things he did there. I don’t think there are too many surprises left. I just think there’s enough information out there, enough film out there that coaches tend to kind of, especially for the opener – I’ve mentioned this already – is over-prepare for a team than be underprepared for it. The talk I had with the coaches too, is let’s make sure we give them, each position, three, four, five things to focus on to be successful. Sometimes you get guys where you kind of give them too much because we’ve had so much time. As (former NFL Head Coach) Brian Billick used to tell us, if you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing. I think it’s important for our coaches to realize that.”

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