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3 Big Takeaways: Freddie Kitchens explains why he rested some offensive starters, why he couldn’t do the same on defense

INDIANAPOLIS -- 

1. Kitchens explains reasoning behind resting some starters

At one point during Wednesday’s practice, the Browns’ first-team offense was on the field for 16 consecutive plays in a competitive 11-on-11 period. It was a harbinger of things to come, as Cleveland’s starters and second-teamers got extensive work from start to finish during two very productive practices with the Colts.

That, in a nutshell, explains why many of those players were on the sidelines from start to finish Saturday during the Browns’ 21-18 victory over the Colts.

Quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Drew Stanton, running back Nick Chubb, wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry and tight end David Njoku did not play. Cleveland’s starting offensive line was on the field for the first series.

“We got our work done during the week,” coach Freddie Kitchens said.

“I felt like if we got accomplished what we needed to get accomplished on Wednesday and Thursday that they would sit. That’s what happened.”

Kitchens said he’d hoped to do the same with more of his defensive players but his hands were tied because of a number of players dealing with injuries. Cornerback Denzel Ward, who was limited with an injury during the practices, and defensive end Myles Garrett -- who was a “little banged up” but healthy enough to play if Saturday’s game were a regular season matchup, Kitchens said -- were the only projected defensive starters who didn’t play. The rest were on the field in some capacity throughout the first quarter and into the early part of the second.

“They bought into this. They sucked it up for the team,” Kitchens said. “They knew they had to get some snaps in to prolong the inevitable of coming out of the game and being done. You’ve got to go with what you got. I appreciate those guys and they know I appreciate that because they kind of took one for the team.”

Check out photos of the Cleveland Browns vs the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium by team photographer Matt Starkey

2. D'Ernest Johnson does it all

The opportunities were everywhere Saturday for D’Ernest Johnson, Cleveland’s first-year running back who is fighting for a roster spot in one of the team’s most talented position groups.

Chubb didn’t play and Kareem Hunt, who saw his first action of the preseason, was on the field for just two series. That left Johnson as the Browns’ lead back for the majority of the first half and the early part of the second.

Johnson broke off a couple of nice runs on his way to a game-high 10 carries for 53 yards. He added three receptions on three targets, including a 6-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. 

On top of his work on offense, Johnson, who starred for the AAF’s Orlando Apollos before signing with Cleveland in the spring, was the Browns’ first option on punt and kick returns. After Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi suffered a rib injury, he was back on the field in the fourth quarter to field another punt.

“I definitely expected that coming into today’s game,” Johnson said. “Coach told me I had an opportunity to come out and play early. I tried to take advantage of every opportunity given to me.”

Johnson’s opportunities on punts and kicks were a byproduct of injuries, as Antonio Callaway is sidelined with an ankle injury and will be suspended for the first four games of the season. Running back Dontrell Hilliard suffered a hamstring injury Wednesday and didn’t play.

The opportunity to stick with the Browns as a running back, though, is getting realer by the day. Last week’s trade of Duke Johnson put D’Ernest Johnson one step closer to a moment like Saturday. He’s competing with the likes of Trayone Gray and A.J. Ouellette for a spot in a room that will feature Hunt during the second half of the season, but won’t take him into account when the roster is trimmed to 53 at the end of the preseason because of his eight-game suspension.

“He’s continuing to get better,” Kitchens said. “He’s one of those guys you didn’t know much about. We signed him late and he’s kind of just worked and he’s worked himself into a pretty good player.”

3. A step back in the kicking competition

The attempts were long, but Kitchens didn’t view that as an excuse for the Browns’ competing kickers.

After a strong week-plus during practice situations, Greg Joseph missed a 53-yarder at the end of the first half and Austin Seibert missed from 52 late in the fourth quarter. They were a perfect 3-for-3 on extra points, but Kitchens’ focus was on the misses that combined to keep 6 points off the scoreboard.

In two preseason games, Joseph has missed an extra point and Saturday’s 53-yarder. Seibert is perfect on extra points and missed his only field goal attempt.

“I want them through the uprights,” Kitchens said. “I don’t care how they get there.

“I think they had the distance. The first ball was hit very good. It just didn’t get through. Both of those guys can kick the ball that far. I just want it through the uprights.”

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