The Browns’ opening six-game stretch, on paper, is a challenge.
They began at home, then went to New York for Monday night, then returned home for Sunday night, then went to Baltimore for a 1 p.m. Sunday start. All but one of those opponents faced are at least 2-2 or better after four weeks.
That makes for a tough go. But the Browns are also 2-2 after four weeks and face another challenging factor: time change.
This weekend, Cleveland will board its charter flight and head west to where there was once the promise of gold and where there is now a team wearing gold (and red) that is named after those who once chased said elusive gold.
Can gold, an inanimate object, be elusive? That’s a debate we’ll table for later (or never), but what can be elusive is a sense of routine for a team that hasn’t played two games at the same time and day of the week consecutively through the first quarter of the season. Such inconsistencies could derail a team, or at least hit it hard enough to consider looking over the edge of the cliff at what might have been.
Not Freddie Kitchens’ team.
Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the 49ers Monday by team photographer Matt Starkey
“Well, they did not make it easy on a first-year head coach, I know that,” Kitchens said Thursday of his team’s schedule. “You are all supposed to laugh at that. Here is what you would like to do, and we have done a good job of that, it is just getting these guys into a routine. Everyone likes a routine, everyone likes getting up in the morning and grabbing your coffee and driving to work or whatever you do. Everyone likes to do the same thing every day and if anything changes, you adjust to it of course.
“Again, that is why today is Wednesday for us, we maintain the same schedule every week. We get to the hotel the same time every week. Our travel is not dictated by the time we leave, it is dictated by the time we get to the schedule because I want everything being constant for those guys in a consistent manner.”
Kitchens is right; routine and habit are the keys to successful people in all walks of life. And right now, it might be the special key to a Browns team that is still learning each other with each week of the season, even if they’ve forgotten what day it really is, not which day of practice it is.
Those covering the team might even forget what day it is when the Browns don’t play at 1 p.m. on Sunday, as they have most often in the last five years or so. Thursday sure didn’t feel like a Thursday, and since the Browns play on Monday night, it functioned as a Wednesday. This, after actual Monday and Wednesday functioned as off days for the team.
Feel free to take notes.
“The last few years, I’ve been used to the 1 o’clock Sunday games. I’m sure you guys have, too,” guard Joel Bitonio said Thursday. “You wake up and you go. Now, we’re traveling a little bit more, we have the west coast teams anyway this year, so that makes us pull west, but it’s one of those things where you just kind of restructure your week. So today is Thursday during the week, but in our minds we’re just thinking it’s just a regular Wednesday practice. And we’re just trying to focus on keeping your routine, because guys have specific routines for them and they do certain things on certain days, and we’re just trying to keep that as similar as possible.”
Bitonio downplayed the challenges of traveling long-distance, emphasizing hydration and cleaner diets ahead of the trip across the country as the most important points and adding the entire league has to deal with such requirements. It is, after all, a 32-team, nationwide league.
Teammate and fellow veteran Olivier Vernon, getting dressed at his locker behind Bitonio’s interview, disagreed.
“Stop lyin’, Joel,” he said loudly with his back to the gathering of reporters.
So maybe the trip isn’t as easy to make as a well-coached veteran might make it seem. Anyone who has taken a cross-country flight knows four or five hours in an airplane can do a number on one’s legs. But these are world-class athletes with top-notch training staffs supporting them at all times.
Plus, as Damarious Randall said Thursday, the Browns have youth on their side.
“We’ve got a very young team,” Randall said. “We’re ready to play any day of the week, honestly. I think we should be ready to go.”