CLEVELAND -- The meshing of Freddie Kitchens with the Cleveland Browns' new offensive coaching staff could well propel the offense into a brave new NFL world.
Kitchens will continue to call plays, but the staff he has built has potential that's fueled by the integration of college principles into the NFL game. The Browns' history since 1999 calls for caution when changes are made, but the pieces are in place for Cleveland to emulate the success of the Chiefs and Rams.
"I think what is really interesting about this is that's going to be a great offensive room to be in, some of the ideas that'll be generated," general manager John Dorsey said Monday.
Dorsey was talking mainly about how new offensive coordinator Todd Monken will integrate his approach with what Kitchens accomplished in the second half of last season.
"Todd is very creative with a lot of his offensive package stuff," Dorsey said. "I would love to sit in that meeting on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, just watch them install a game plan 'cause they're both very creative."
The possibilities are tantalizing, but it is merely January, and much has to happen before creativity leads to wins.
The Browns will keep the same system and terminology; that continuity is key for a team that for so long has relied on restarts. Monken will learn the system Kitchens used, as opposed to the team learning Monken’s.
"He understands that him learning something new is a hell of a lot better and easier than 90 other guys learning what to do," Kitchens said.
The Browns have had eight different coordinators or playcallers in the past nine seasons. They only had the same guy calling plays in consecutive seasons when Hue Jackson did it in 2016 and 2017. He gave way to Todd Haley, who gave way in midseason to Kitchens, who sped up rookie Baker Mayfield’s decisions and sparked the offense.
Monken’s experience could further the development of the team and its young quarterback. Monken has a background in the Air Raid system, which is much like what Mayfield used at Oklahoma under Lincoln Riley. Monken used the Air Raid when he worked at Oklahoma State from 2002-04 and 2011-12. It was with Monken as his coordinator that Brandon Weeden put up the numbers to become a first-round pick in Cleveland.
Monken then took the system to Southern Mississippi, where he took over a winless team in 2013 and took it to a bowl game three years later, before he left for Tampa Bay. Monken then brought the principles of the Air Raid to the Bucs' offense. Last season, the Bucs won only five games, but their offense ranked third in the NFL in total yards and set team records for total yards, passing yards and touchdowns.
Monken’s approach mirrors what Kitchens did with the Browns last season: spread the field; use horizontal-vertical routes and multiple groupings and formations to put pressure on the defense; get the ball out quickly; produce big plays. This offseason, Monken interviewed for head coach openings with the Packers, Bengals and Jets. He also interviewed for other coordinator jobs before choosing the Browns, where he knew he would not be calling plays.
"He came in and made the decision for what he was going to be surrounded with and the environment that is going to be created moving forward," Kitchens said.
Making Ryan Lindley the quarterbacks coach was another potentially significant move. Lindley, 29, played at San Diego State under former Browns great Brian Sipe and had a brief NFL career before he tutored Carson Wentz and Jared Goff ahead of the 2016 draft. Lindley worked as a grad assistant at San Diego State until Kitchens brought him to the Browns as running backs coach midway through last season.
Though teams have resisted adding elements of the college passing game to their NFL playbooks, Lindley spoke in December as if such an outcome were inevitable.
"I think that a lot of guys are resistant to change," he said. "You go with what you know. Part of that, you could argue that is the younger group (of quarterbacks) that is coming in. At the end of the day, as a coach, you want to put your guys on the field as fast as possible to execute. By doing that, you make some concessions and you do some things that they are used to doing in high school and college."
With more high schools running similar offenses, the change is almost impossible to resist, Lindley said.
"At San Diego State, we ran a pro-style offense running 22 personnel and pounding the ball and running the football," he said. "It was impossible to find a kid in high school that was running that kind of system. Everyone is spread out -- four wide receivers, three wide receivers and a tight end. It is really what kids know, so it would be counterintuitive to waste time and try and get them to adjust to a different system. You would kind of be banging your head against a wall."
With Kitchens, Monken and Lindley, the Browns staff has a forward-thinking feel. Dorsey’s point is sound: There figure to be some creative folks getting together to plot the Browns' game plans in 2019.