Freddie Kitchens stressed from the moment he was promoted to head coach the importance of team.
Highlight it. Underline it. Print it in bold type font.
There are unity-focused mantras all over the building. “Out of yourself and into the team” greets players as they pass through the parking lot’s gate each day.
After a grueling camp, it appears as though his message has set in among his players.
Browns safety Damarious Randall — voted the team’s loudest and most frequent trash talker by teammates in the spring — spoke to reporters Wednesday and had a chance to deliver fresh trash talk about Cleveland’s Week 1 opponent, the Tennessee Titans. He didn’t, instead emphasizing the same points out of Kitchens’ playbook: teamwork, unity, and playing as one.
It very well might qualify as a football platitude, but it holds legitimate meaning with a tight-knit locker room. Randall took a place in front of microphones where Baker Mayfield stood just minutes earlier, and where Mayfield endured his teammate Myles Garrett grilling him for his latest endorsement deal. Mayfield replied with “Bud Light coolers” in reference to Garrett’s Tuesday appearance at Bud Light’s Victory Fridge pop-up shop on West 25th Street in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood.
By the time Randall took his spot in front of the microphones, his teammates were leaning on a joke that was played out weeks ago.
“Show them your hair,” one shouted toward Randall, who didn’t flinch. Sheldon Richardson had already forcibly removed Randall's hat in front of reporters, revealing his blue hair, well before Wednesday’s gathering.
This team is close, close enough to feel completely comfortable to do everything they can to embarrass teammates in front of cameras. Nick Chubb, the last Browns player to speak Wednesday, answered questions while a group of teammates led by Olivier Vernon made comical expressions at him and at one point told him “smile!”
Randall continuously referenced unity with the team when responding to a variety of questions about approaching the much-anticipated regular season, using the phrase “we know what we have in this locker room.”
“We’re going to go out there each and every play and fight as one,” he said.
That’s all fine, but what is it that the Browns have in their locker room, besides a room full of players ready to crack jokes on one another? That’s what most naysayers point to when it comes to the Browns, especially when one is searching for a reason to doubt.
Surprisingly, Randall didn’t respond with football clichés. He’s just ready to go play ball with his guys and let their actions speak for themselves.
“We got guys that have been fighting together throughout camp. We got guys that since OTAs have put together a plan and we actually believe in that plan and trust that plan,” Randall said. “We finally get to go out and show the world what we’ve been doing the last two, three months.
“Because there’s been a lot of talk, and I mean, I’m tired of hearing the talk. I’m ready to play football, period. The fact that it’s finally here, I’m definitely stoked, happy about it and I hope the fans are ready to go because we’re just as excited as they are.”
The opportunity to speak with action — for Randall, that’s speaking with tackles, pass break-ups and interceptions — arrives Sunday. For these Browns, the opportunity to get their first win is more important than anything else, including the comfort of the home confines.
“I’d play them in the parking lot,” Mayfield said. “I don’t really care.”
They’ll get their first public chance to record a victory at 1 p.m. at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Titans Sunday by team photographer Matt Starkey