Q: Is the Browns coaching staff and the GM on the same page with personnel?
A: Not entirely. But that isn’t out of the ordinary.
It’s natural for front offices and coaching staffs to have different opinions on talent. The key to successful organizations is how they deal with the conflict.
The examples that jump out this year are second-year defensive end Genard Avery and right guard Wyatt Teller. I assume general manager John Dorsey wanted to see more playing time for Avery, a fifth-round pick in 2018 who had a strong rookie year. But he landed in the coaches’ doghouse, didn’t play and Dorsey shipped him to the Eagles for a fourth-round pick in 2021 rather than watch him languish on the bench. As for Teller, it took the coaches until midseason to play him despite Eric Kush’s struggles and Dorsey trading for Teller before the season.
On the other hand, the front office and coaching staff seem to have been in lockstep at receiver, where Antonio Callaway has been ahead of Rashard Higgins since he came back from a four-game suspension. Dorsey obviously loves Callaway — he drafted him despite a history of off-field trouble — and the coaching staff seems to agree.
It’s worth keeping in mind that disagreement can be healthy and the organizational structure encourages some. Dorsey’s in charge of the roster and Kitchens controls the gameday lineup. You can’t ask a coach to do his job if he doesn’t get to decide who’s going to play.
Q: How much can get done in preparation in a full week? Can Freddie Kitchens install an extra 10 to 20 offensive play designs? Is this possible and will Freddie do it?
A: Plenty of work gets done, but it’s unrealistic to expect wholesale changes at midseason. The playbook has been around for months, so only so much tweaking can be done. Especially with the week’s practices devoted to preparing for the opponent and working on specific game situations.
This week creates an interesting opportunity, however, with the return of running back Kareem Hunt from an eight-game suspension. Kitchens repeatedly joked about using Hunt and Nick Chubb together in the wishbone. The reality is such a formation is probably part of the playbook but hadn’t been practiced during the first eight games without Hunt available.
So a couple of new plays or wrinkles can be expected, but not an overhaul. You’ll have to wait until next season for that.
Q: It seems like this front office & coaching staff overvalues “potential.” Enamored with tight end David Njoku, who’s never been dependable, keeping Chad Thomas over Genard Avery, playing Antonio Callaway over Rashard Higgins. This team has plenty of talent, but not enough chemistry and glue guys and it’s causing inconsistency.
A: There’s not a question in there but I appreciate the comment and think there’s room to elaborate.
I can’t argue with your premise. But I also appreciate the value of potential and talent, which can’t be realized without playing time. The problem is when the organization overlooks results while it keeps waiting for the talent to show up.
Let’s take your examples one by one.
Njoku hasn’t played with the consistency necessary of a first-round draft choice. But his absence with a broken wrist has shown he’s better than his backups: Demetrius Harris, Pharaoh Brown and Ricky Seals-Jones. But Njoku hasn’t been good enough throughout his 2-plus years and an upgrade will be sought in the offseason.
Thomas is so different physically than Avery it’s a tough comparison. Thomas is bigger, taller and better against the run but hasn’t shown the explosion of Avery as a pass rusher. Today against the Bills will give Thomas the opportunity to show if he really belongs, as he’ll make his first career start in place of the injured Olivier Vernon. Avery was never given the chance this year to see if he fits in coordinator Steve Wilks’ defense.
The Callaway-Higgins argument is fascinating to me. Callaway makes just enough plays to keep me intrigued, with the latest example a long catch-and-run against Denver on a bubble screen. But his overall inconsistency and lack of urgency is maddening. Higgins is the opposite. His talent is mediocre but he’s usually reliable and has been more productive than I would have expected. The bottom line for me: I understand playing Callaway over Higgins … but also understand the fans’ frustration with the plan.
Q: Candidly, Chad Thomas tweets so much about his music career, I wonder if he’s really committed to his football career. What’s the word inside Berea?
— @Candid Jimmy Haslam
A: When the team loses, everything is scrutinized. That includes a defensive end’s rap career.
Thomas spends a lot of time on social media promoting his music career and recently announced an offseason tour schedule. But I’m not willing to say that was the reason for the slow start to his career. As mentioned above, Vernon’s absence will give Thomas the perfect chance to prove himself. He said he’s lost 15 pounds, to 265, since last year, is faster and never doubted his ability to play at this level. If he sacks Josh Allen twice today, no one will care if he busts a rhyme after the game.
A final note: It is funny to hear teammates call him “Nine,” based on his stage name of Major Nine.