It’s rare to complain about good things happening. It’s almost like being upset when you DON’T have any cavities when you go to the dentist;1 it just feels wrong. Yet, here I am, almost wanting, wishing for more bad things to be happening in Browns training camp. It’s expected by this time in the preseason that some important has a possible career-ending injury, or some coach has decided to go off the deep end and give Tyrod Taylor the lion’s share of preseason snaps over the No. 1 pick in that year’s draft and future walking meme Baker Mayfield. By now, in years past, some player has said something ridiculous, held out, or any wide variety of silliness. But not this year.2
This year marks the first in head coach Freddie Kitchens tenure and the atmosphere has changed around fans, media, the roster…everyone. Expectations were always wildly high for a Cleveland fanbase starving for something as little as a competitive football team, but this year, it’s hard to find anyone who isn’t thinking the playoffs are lock. Even I am guilty of it, as I looked down the schedule with a coworker recently and pronounced a 12-4 schedule as being attainable, claiming any game I felt was a coin flip or better as a win.3 The vibe of the roster definitely has the feeling as well, as on numerous occasions we have had to hear about how newcomers Odell Beckham Jr or Greedy Williams were told to downplay the Super Bowl talk when addressing the media. But the fan, media, and player expectations are always going to skew towards the wild side; the air around Berea has become more tightened…but in a good way.
Gone are the days of Gregg Williams and the outlandish press conference claims. Out the door is the Hue Jackson blame game. What we have now is tight-lipped, professional football from probably the least likely looking source out there. To say that Kitchens looks unprofessional would be wrong, but he definitely has the look and the vibe of the dad who desperately wants to get out of the khakis he has on, get his Tommy Bahama shirt out of the closet and sit back on the porch and have a few beers while talking about the glory days of when football was football .and if he has a few more than he should, he *will* get up and show you how it’s done. That translates to the football field in ways most wouldn’t expect.
Kitchens runs a tough training camp. The players have been in pads since the moment they could.4 When asked if he has received complaints from a Browns players leadership council about the padded practices, Kitchens answered, “I do not have a leadership council. I have me, and that is it. I do not get into that stuff either. That is all a façade for excuses to blame other people. I will take the blame.” Kitchens is as no-nonsense as possible. Kitchens had the team return to practice the day after Week 1 of the preseason and had this to say when asked about it, “I thought that is what we needed to do. I am not basing what we do on the past. That is it. I was not trying to be funny. Our starters did not play a lot yesterday so we need to get some work. We need to keep getting better.”
“I’m not basing what we do on the past,” is a sentence that is refreshing for this Browns fan, as I’m sure it is for many. The past is great, and ultimately it’s how many Browns fans came to be, but the recent past is dark and full of terrors. Kitchens knows that “that’s the way it’s always been” isn’t an answer anymore. He has come in, and with the help of players like Mayfield, Beckham, Jarvis Landry and others, helped curb the drama at the door, which might be the first victory Kitchens can claim.