Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Takeaways from Browns OTA practice and interviews …
Kareem Hunt’s path to reinstatement from NFL suspension for shoving and kicking a woman outside his downtown Cleveland apartment in February of 2018 includes counseling twice a week, he said, frequent visits to high schools to warn teenagers to “make smart decisions” in their lives, and getting baptized this Sunday “so I can feel reborn.”
He said he’s a “better person and a smarter person” since he was given a second chance by Browns GM John Dorsey after his release from the Kansas City Chiefs and has promised Dorsey he will earn “his trust and everybody’s trust.”
“I’m not willing to mess that up,” Hunt said.
It sounds as if Hunt is well on his way to earning the trust of his new teammates.
“Even though he can’t play the first eight games, he is going to be a vital part of our team,” said quarterback Baker Mayfield. “Just being around him, I think he is a great kid. Mistakes happen. I can speak from personal experience. Just talking to [Chiefs quarterback] Pat Mahomes or [Chiefs tight end] Travis Kelce – the guys that have been with him – they speak very highly of him. I think that is really important, and it has been pretty important for him to be here, too.”
Even running back Nick Chubb, whose playing time possibly could be reduced as a result of Hunt’s addition to the Browns, has nothing but good things to say about Hunt.
“He is cool,” Chubb said. “He is a great guy. I’m enjoying having him as a teammate, just as a person. He keeps you laughing, he keeps you up always on the high. A high-spirited guy. On the field, he is what I see him do. When I was back in college and he was at Kansas City, also last year, he makes plays. You see it. We see it right now in OTAs.”
Hunt said that he and Chubb have become close friends.
“He’s a very hard worker. I like to see that,” Hunt said. “He was a beast. He’s an animal in the weight room. I really have a lot of respect for him. He’s actually one of my closest friends on the team right now. It’s good to see a guy like that do well. He can really go far.”
Watch No. 11: Early entrant for “sophomore to watch” this year is receiver Antonio Callaway.
“I think I can speak for a few people … we have been very pleasantly and very happy with how he came back from the offseason ready to go,” Mayfield said. “Just how quick he is and you can tell he has been working on his craft. That is very exciting to see that. You bring in a guy like Odell and you re-sign some guys, and he is going to try and compete with them. That is the most important part. Competition brings out the best in them and Callaway is doing that.”
Kitchens said, “Callaway has come back and he has been here most of the time. He is in good shape relative to what he was in last year during training camp. He has added some explosiveness. He has been catching the ball really well. He is doing a good job. Just like everybody else, he has to continue. It is what can you do for me tomorrow, not today. Today is over.”
Run to win: Just another sign of Mayfield’s maturity as an NFL quarterback is his discipline in not getting overly enamored or reliant on a potential Air Raid quartet of receivers in Beckham, Landry, Callaway and Rashard Higgins.
“We have people talking about our receivers and tight ends, but we have to be able to run the ball in short yardage and in cold weather,” Mayfield said. “It is pretty important, and I’m hoping everybody kind of overshadowing and not talking about the running backs kind of pisses them off.”
Baker’s views: Mayfield had a blast hanging with Tom Brady & Co. at the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago, even serving as the celebrity to deliver the “riders up” call to the jockeys in the race. But like many bettors, the day soured for him when Maximum Security was DQ’d after finishing first. Mayfield said he had money on the favorite and was mad when it was taken down after interfering in the final turn of the 1 ¼-mile classic … Mayfield and backup QB candidate Garrett Gilbert went to the same Lake Travis High School in Austin, TX, and competed against each other in one Big 12 Conference game (Texas Tech v. Southern Methodist) in 2013. Their relationship continued as Gilbert bounced around five NFL teams and the AAF Orlando Apollos before joining the Browns on April 5. “His younger brother is in my wedding [in July], and he is an usher, so yeah,” Mayfield said.
Sir Olivier: Defensive end Olivier Vernon said he was not as shocked about his trade from the Giants to the Browns as was ex-Giants teammate Beckham. But he was surprised – and pleased -- when learned Beckham had also been dealt to the Browns on March 12.
“When they did say he was coming over here, I felt, ‘OK, all right, I see they’ve got a plan,’” Vernon said.
While Beckham has attended only one day of the voluntary workouts since April 1, Vernon has participated in most of them.
“I’m just here so I can learn the defensive playbook,” Vernon said. “Far as working as a defensive line, us getting to know each other and building that chemistry is far different than I feel like when it comes to receivers. Receivers are with the quarterback. That’s a whole different world.
“As far as defensive line, you can’t really simulate that outside this building. With defensive line on the field going against the offensive line, that’s how we can simulate that. Build that chemistry, build that camaraderie. That’s basically why I came.”
Vernon wouldn’t cast judgment on Beckham’s decision to leave after one OTA practice.
“At the end of the day, he’s going to be ready. He’s done what he’s done in his career. It’s done for a reason. We all know he’s going to be all right,” Vernon said.