Freddie Kitchens has been on both sides of preseason hype and expectations.
Strategizing how to deal with them, whether they’re overwhelmingly good or depressingly bad, follow the same game plan.
"When you start talking about expectations … if a team is supposed to be not very good, then the expectation level is low. So the first thing a coach wants to go in and say is that you have to block out the noise from outside,” Kitchens said Monday as the Browns began their offseason workout program. “Well, what the hell changes if you are supposed to be good? You still block out the noise from the outside, so that is what we are going to do. No pun intended, but nobody else matters except for the people in the room.”
That noise was somewhat unavoidable Monday in Berea.
Kitchens and his new-look coaching staff welcomed back the vast majority of Cleveland’s roster for the start of offseason workouts. Among them was new wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the crown jewel of another productive March that saw general manager John Dorsey inject more talent throughout a roster brimming with it. Beckham was introduced in the afternoon before a crowd of reporters large enough to fill out a three-deep depth chart.
“You guys didn't do this for us last year," quarterback Baker Mayfield said.
Browns players -- including newly acquired superstar receiver Odell Beckham Jr. -- are back in Berea for the start of offseason workouts. We snapped some photos of their arrivals.
One week ago, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said what plenty of others in media and throughout the NFL have said about the resurgent Browns. Based on the level of talent and optimism, the Browns might just be the team to beat in the AFC North.
Kitchens agreed, but in his own way.
“We are talented,” Kitchens said. “There is a lot of talent in this league, but you can go down through all of the free agents we signed and I probably should not be saying this, but just see how many playoff games that they have won. It takes more than individuals. I know that for a fact.
“Ask (Cardinals WR) Larry (Fitzgerald) how many playoff games he won before 2008. It is when they decided that they wanted to become a team. This is the ultimate team game. I know that sounds like a cliché, but it truly is. You see Hall of Famers all of the time that never won a playoff game. It is about the team. Make no mistake about that.”
On the stage one hour later were four players who had plenty of Pro Bowl appearances among them but not a single playoff victory. Only Beckham and Jarvis Landry have tasted the playoffs, and that came with different teams.
It’s a long, long way from 0-16 -- or even 2-6-1, for that matter -- but there’s a long way to go before those lofty expectations can even become a reality.
"Like Freddie said, we are good on paper – everything looks good, everything looks tight on offense and on defense,” third-year defensive end Myles Garrett said, “but until we go out there and prove it, until we go out and win each and every day, it is just words right now, just thoughts."
Still, there was tangible excitement among the players. They believe in themselves, the talent around them and the coach who is tasked with getting the most out of them, a process that began in earnest with the start of the offseason workout program.
It was a beginning, Beckham said, that would be remembered years from now.
“I think this moment is going to be more iconic than we all realize right now,” Beckham said.
“That is obviously, what we want to be a part of. We want to look back in 10 years and be like, 'man, I remember April 1, 2019. that was the start of something great.'
“I'm just happy to be a part of it."