Browns notes: Inside locker cleanout day

Players stay out of coaching search fray, acknowledge 2018 success and 2019 expectations

Daryl Ruiter
December 31, 2018 - 10:16 pm

© Tommy Gilligan/Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

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Berea, OH (92.3 The Fan) – Locker cleanout day in Berea had a much different feel than a year ago Monday morning.

The wake of 2017 was replaced with unbridled excitement and belief they’re contenders come 2019 after wrapping up the best season for the franchise in over a decade with a 7-8-1 finish that included a midseason coaching change, constant frustration over officiating, and the promise of finally having a franchise quarterback.

As their freshly pressed game jerseys hung from their nameplates, players packed up for the offseason while exchanging laughs, hugs and goodbyes with teammates.

While recognizing how much they were able to accomplish in 2018 despite not making the playoffs considering the franchise won a grand total of 4 games the previous 3 years combined, the feeling of optimism and expectation to be a force within the division and AFC in 2019 could be felt everywhere.

“It looks bright,” left guard Joel Bitonio said. “It is not just going to be given now that we have some expectations, but I think we have cornerstone pieces here. I think you see a couple of draft classes where you have the No. 1 overall pick, No. 4 pick, and they are hits so far. You never know what is going to happen, but when you have a quarterback, everything else kind of gets a little bit easier when you have found that. Now, we have to find the right coach. I think it is going to be fun. I think that we have a lot to look forward to.”

Defensive end Myles Garrett has his eyes on a winning season, and soon.

“I was eager to come back at the beginning of this year,” Garrett said. “I knew that we had bigger things ahead of us, and I have bigger things ahead of myself. It is the same kind of excitement going into next year knowing that we are both going to raise our games as a team and me as an individual.”

David Njoku emerged at tight end by finishing as the No. 2 receiver on the team in receptions (56) and yards (639).

“Very excited,” Njoku said. “I was upset [Sunday] night with the outcome. I wanted to finish strong, but I am really excited about what is going to happen next year.

“Just our playmakers on both sides of the ball on offense, defense and special teams. We have a lot of great athletes and players here, and everyone seems focused as you have seen for the past few games so I am really excited.”

Trust in Dorsey

Once again the Browns begin January in search of yet another head coach, but the players did their best to stay away from making any definitive statements about the current remaining staff or the next group.

“I think if Dorsey makes that decision, I think the guys here will ride with it,” Bitonio said. “We are here to play the game, and whatever coach they are going to put in front of us, we are going to try and fight for them. We fought for Gregg these last eight games, and it is a credit to him. He did a heck of a job coming in. That is a tough spot to be put into. For him to come into that and do the things that he did, it was pretty impressive. We are going to be ready to play for whoever they bring in.”

That was pretty much the theme from the locker room – praise for the job Gregg Williams did as interim coach but leaving their future boss in the hands of the GM.

“I just play,” Tretter said. “I am not qualified to determine who can lead an organization. I think someone who definitely is qualified is (General Manager) John Dorsey, and I think the guys upstairs, there is no reason to not trust whatever decision they make. What they have done in their short time here, there is no reason not to believe in whatever direction they take this team.”

While Garrett downplayed the uncertainty surrounding the coaching staff, he kept the focus on his teammates.

“I know the guys in the room that I’ll be playing with,” Garrett said. “I know they’ll come back bigger, stronger, faster and we’ve got confidence in each other and chemistry already built, so whoever comes in we’ll learn that system. If we stay with who we’ve got, we’ve already shown that we can play with the best, so no matter what happens, I’m confident in this team.”

No grades on a curve

Garrett was asked to grade his sophomore season that saw him play all 16 games. “B-minus,” Garrett said. “It was a good year. It was not great. It was not bad. Right there in the middle.” He finished with 13.5 sacks, a half sack shy of the official franchise record and 1 full sack shy of the unofficial team record. “I know that I will take it out eventually, whether it is next season or years down the line. Preferably next year,” Garrett said. What happens if Gregg Williams isn’t retained and the new coaching staff switches the base from a 4-3 to 3-4? “I guess I’ll just have to go play safety,” Garrett said.

Keeping Perriman and Robinson?

In between the multitude of questions about the head coaching search, general manager John Dorsey praised offensive line coach Boy Wylie for his work with Greg Robinson, the former No. 2 overall pick in the draft that helped stabilize left tackle over the final half of the season and receivers coach Adam Henry for Breshad Perriman’s success. Perriman caught 16 balls for 340 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Both will be free agents in March. “Would I like to have them back? You bet,” Dorsey said.

Baker’s out

Baker Mayfield, who etched his name into NFL history by throwing 27 touchdown passes in just 13 starts as a rookie, was nowhere to be seen while reporters were in the locker room for the final time before leaving the facility Monday. Mayfield set franchise rookie records for TD passes and passing yardage. He completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 3,725 yards and 14 interceptions. He was sacked just 5 times over the final 8 games after being bagged 20 times in his first 5.  

Injury updates

- Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi confirmed what we knew and that is that he played the final few weeks of the season with a torn biceps muscle. Ogunjobi won’t have surgery and he is expected to make a full recovery by resting and rehabbing. “They told me I have to chill out or a bit and just give myself time to really just rest and recover, which is what I am going to do,” Ogunjobi said. Whether or not he’ll be ready for day 1 of the offseason program remains to be seen but he expects there will be no further problems with the injury once it heals.

- Center JC Tretter is done with the walking boot and he’ll take some time to rest his sore left ankle. “No surgery,” Tretter said. “Out of the boot, at least for now. Got it all checked out. Little R and R and be alright.” Tretter essentially played the second half of the season with a high ankle sprain that got aggravated by being stepped on during games.   

- Christian Kirksey’s hamstring injury that landed him on injured reserve is no longer an issue the linebacker told 92.3 The Fan. While disappointed he didn’t get to participate on the field in the late season success, Kirksey said he is excited about what the future holds for the Browns. The 2014 third-round pick has waited a long time to play on a winner in Cleveland and next fall can’t get here fast enough for him.