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Notes: Alex Van Pelt says David Njoku has fresh start, been “excellent” in virtual meetings

Freddie Kitchens getting fired after one season as coach saved tight end David Njoku’s Browns career.

Njoku has a fresh start with coach Kevin Stefanski and his staff, and new general manager Andrew Berry picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract and has repeatedly said he has a future with the team.

“He has been excellent. Really enjoy him in the meetings,” coordinator Alex Van Pelt said of Njoku in a Zoom call Wednesday. “He is a guy who speaks out. He is a smart guy. He understands what we are trying to get accomplished. He can answer the questions when you ask him. He has been really interactive in meetings, and that has been great.

“I am excited to get to know him. I know obviously he is a talented guy.”

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Njoku, the No. 29 pick in 2017, broke his wrist in Week 2 last year and clashed with Kitchens about when he was healthy and ready to return. He finished the year with five catches for 41 yards and a touchdown in four games, and was a healthy inactive two of the last three games.

“He got in the doghouse a little bit last year, it sounds like, from the old staff, but it is a fresh, clean slate for him,” Van Pelt said. “He is going to add to that tight end room. There will be times we are out there with three-tight end sets — that is part of this system — and to have him with the ability he has athletically to play in line or get him out in space and get some matchup issues with safeties and linebackers covering him, I am excited to see what he has to offer. He has been excellent, and I look forward to working with him.”

The Browns signed Austin Hooper to a four-year, $42 million contract as a free agent and drafted Harrison Bryant in the fourth round. They also return Pharaoh Brown and Stephen Carlson at tight end.

Van Pelt happy with Baker Mayfield as he takes on footwork changes, leadership role during virtual offseason

DEMANDING JUSTICE

Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. continued to take to social media to rail against police brutality following the death of George Floyd.

“Recent events in our country have highlighted the social injustice that has occurred for too long,” he posted on Instagram. “We all feel the pain of the victims lost who were sons, daughters, spouses, parents, family members, and friends to many. The unconscionable murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery along with the unanswered questions surrounding the deaths of Breonna Taylor and David McAtee have outraged us. Racism, police brutality and other abuses of power can no longer be tolerated. We demand that justice be served. The police officers who were involved in the murder of George Floyd should be prosecuted and held accountable for their actions. Adequate and consistent training for all officers on proper use of force should be required.

“We are “suppose” to depend on police officers to protect us. When an officer abuses their authority to harm someone, the good officers (I kno there’s plenty of em) have a duty to intervene to protect that person whose being apprehended. If we want to deter the senseless killing of our people, there must be serious consequences for the actions of the officers involved, both through their actions and the others who failed to act in these situations. We need those in power to take action. It’s begins with you all. Only then and ONLY then, can we even begin to heal as a country.”

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Recent events in our country have highlighted the social injustice that has occurred for too long. We all feel the pain of the victims lost who were sons, daughters, spouses, parents, family members, and friends to many. The unconscionable murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery along with the unanswered questions surrounding the deaths of Breonna Taylor and David McAtee have outraged us. Racism, police brutality and other abuses of power can no longer be tolerated. We demand that justice be served. The police officers who were involved in the murder of George Floyd should be prosecuted and held accountable for their actions. Adequate and consistent training for all officers on proper use of force should be required. We are “suppose” to depend on police officers to protect us. When an officer abuses their authority to harm someone, the good officers (I kno there’s plenty of em) have a duty to intervene to protect that person whose being apprehended. If we want to deter the senseless killing of our people, there must be serious consequences for the actions of the officers involved, both through their actions and the others who failed to act in these situations. We need those in power to take action. It’s begins with you all. Only then and ONLY then, can we even begin to heal as a country.

A post shared by Odell Beckham Jr (@obj) on

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Van Pelt applauded Stefanski and receiver Jarvis Landry for their part in a discussion about the killing of Floyd, who died when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes May 25.

“Obviously, it was a horrific event, and to talk about it helps,” Van Pelt said of a team meeting Monday. “It starts the healing process or starts the process of change. Kevin did an excellent job in the team meeting of letting the guys know that we need more than just words, we need actions and he is there to help those guys put those words into action. Provided a lot of different ways for them to help and support right away. I thought it was excellent.

“Jarvis speaking from the heart on how he feels and having the opportunity to listen to him explain what it is like for him, it was very powerful and very moving.”

UNDECIDED

Nothing has changed regarding who will call the offensive plays during the season. Stefanski said at the combine in February he would give Van Pelt the chance to call plays in practice and the preseason before deciding if he or Van Pelt will have the job during the season.

“It is actually something that we haven’t even discussed, to be honest with you,” Van Pelt said. “I think it is still a fluid situation. Until we get together and feel more comfortable with each other, and him with me more so, on the field in live action, I think we are in the same spot as we have been.”

Neither has much experience calling plays.

Stefanski was promoted to interim coordinator and called plays for the first time in the final three games of the 2018 season with the Vikings after John DeFilippo was fired. Stefanski became the coordinator for 2019 and called plays as the Vikings reached the second round of the playoffs. The Vikings ranked 16th in total offense (353.5 yards a game) and eighth in scoring (25.4 points).

Van Pelt’s only time calling plays was in 2009 with the Bills, who ranked 30th overall and 28th in scoring (16.1). He was a backup quarterback for nine years and has mostly coached quarterbacks, including the last two seasons with the Bengals.

THE NEW GUYS

Van Pelt realizes he’s the beneficiary of an offseason primarily dedicated to filling holes on the offense. In addition to signing Hooper, Berry signed right tackle Jack Conklin to a three-year, $42 million deal in free agency, drafted left tackle Jedrick Wills with the No. 10 pick and signed backup quarterback Case Keenum.

“I thought we hit it out of the park there,” Van Pelt said. “I think that you would say our side of the ball, we look like we are in pretty good shape from a personnel standpoint.”

He’s confident Wills can make the move to the left side after playing right tackle in high school and college. Line coach Bill Callahan and assistant line coach Scott Peters will guide the transition.

“The sky is the limit for him. Having Coach Callahan and Coach Peters on board, that will only accelerate his growth. Expect him to be a left tackle for a long time in this league for the Browns. We are excited to have him.”

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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