Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Takeaways prior to Tuesday’s opening of OTA practices for the Browns …
Browns rookies join veterans on Tuesday for the start of 10 OTA practices over the next three weeks.
So for the first time, coach Freddie Kitchens will have his whole team together on the field.
Or will he?
OTAs – organized team activities -- still fall under the category of “voluntary” practices, per the collective bargaining agreement. That means players can be absent without fear of being fined, reprimanded, shamed, encouraged, or cajoled to participate.
Two prominent players have been absent from essentially the entire first two phases of the offseason program – running back Duke Johnson and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Johnson has stayed away to accentuate his wish to be traded because he sees a further diminished role after the acquisition of Kareem Hunt and presumably does not want to be traded mid-season, as Carlos Hyde was a year ago.
Beckham has stayed away because … he can?
Nobody knows exactly why. Or nobody is saying why.
Never in any of his social media posts since the trade to the Browns on March 12 has Beckham alluded to when he intends to report to his new team full time.
The merits of the offseason program have been ridiculed by veteran players – but they do attend at about a rate of 98 percent league-wide. And first-year coaches, such as Kitchens, will tell you why they are important.
“Right now, we are just a bunch of good individual players,” Kitchens said at the onset of the Browns’ offseason program. “Yeah, our roster looks great on paper – whoopty-hell, alright? – but at the end of the day, we better be a good team. You start building that during this time of the year, and training camp is a big portion of that.”
Last week, NBC analyst Rodney Harrison, the former New England Patriots safety, echoed Kitchens’ comments when he derided Beckham for saying he wanted to turn the Browns into the “next Patriots.”
“You’re a great individual player. That’s what they have,” Harrison said on CBS Sports Radio. “They have a lot of great individual players. It takes time to build chemistry, to build trust, to build that camaraderie.
“People think that individual talent [wins]. No. This is the ultimate team sport. You need guys to learn and to trust one another and to be able to have that camaraderie. When you don’t have it, it’s very difficult to win.”
Kitchens also has pointed out several times that not a single a player on the Browns roster has been a part of an NFL championship team.
Championship team-building begins with the entire team on the field. Whether Kitchens will have his full team this week, or just 98 percent of it, will be known soon.
Kicking it: Which Browns’ draft pick could have the biggest impact on the 2019 season?
It may be the one who some critics have questioned as a wasted draft pick – kicker Austin Seibert, taken in the fifth round.
Seibert joins a team that was involved in four overtime games last year and had two games go sour because of missed kicks by Zane Gonzalez.
Greg Joseph steadied the kicking game somewhat after taking over for Gonzalez in Week 3. But Joseph was shaky enough to inspire GM John Dorsey to draft a kicker for only the second time in his personnel career.
Joseph was 18th among kickers with a field-goal percentage of 85.0 and he was 32nd with a PAT percentage of 86.2.
Joseph’s one pure game-winning kick – a 37-yard field goal – knuckled through the uprights with :02 left against the Ravens in FirstEnergy Stadium. It secured a 12-9 win after Joseph missed a PAT and a 55-yard try at the end of regulation.
Seibert, who kicked four years for Baker Mayfield’s Oklahoma offensive powerhouse, considers himself a football player who kicks rather than simply a kicker.
“I’ve played football my whole life,” Seibert said on the #100YearsPod on thelandondemand.com. “I’ve played different positions. I mesh well with my teammates. A lot of the stereotypical kickers hang out with just the kickers. I try to get around my teammates as much as possible. I’m not afraid to make a hit. I don’t just want to be a kicker.
Seibert left Oklahoma as the all-time scorer in FBS history with 499 points – mostly because of the Sooners’ prolific touchdown-scoring -- besting Gonzalez’ mark of 494 at Arizona State. But Oklahoma’s record-smashing offense limited his long attempts (1 for 3 from 50 yards and longer in his career) and his game-winning tries.
Still, the Browns say he has a “cannon” for a right leg. And Seibert recognizes the high expectations that come with being drafted in the fifth round.
“Cleveland’s up and coming,” Seibert said. “They’re going to be a winning program. You have to have successful kickers in order to do that.
“They drafted me for a reason. They want me to make kicks. Greg’s going to push me to make kicks and I’m going to push him.”