BEREA — John Dorsey explained Duke Johnson has not reported to Browns headquarters since the team began its voluntary offseason workout program on April 1, but the general manager insisted he still views the running back whose agent has requested a trade as a “member of this organization moving forward.”
Dorsey said Thursday he has talked to Johnson’s agent and coach Freddie Kitchens has texted with Johnson.
“He understands the role that he’s going to play within this offense,” Dorsey said during a pre-draft news conference, “and that’s what’s important because Duke, everybody knows, is a very talented playmaker, and I look forward to seeing him on the field on Sundays.”
Dorsey said the Browns have not discussed with Johnson or his camp whether he’s committed to participating in mandatory minicamp June 4-6. The Browns have another veteran minicamp April 23-25, but it's voluntary.
"I always expect him here," Dorsey said when asked whether he expects Johnson to show up next week. "It's voluntary, so you can't [force him]. That's part of the CBA."
Dorsey was asked whether the trade request has changed his strategy involving Johnson.
“No, when you sit down with Freddie and the coaching staff, they see him as a vital part of this offense moving forward,” Dorsey replied. “He’s a good playmaker.”
It remains to be seen whether Dorsey will really keep Johnson despite signing running back Kareem Hunt on Feb. 11 and drafting Nick Chubb in the second round (35th overall) last year. The GM could just be waiting for the right offer to come along. He could be publicly complimenting Johnson in an effort to bolster his trade market.
Either way, Dorsey is not in a rush to grant the trade request.
If Dorsey intends to trade Johnson, the Browns could pick a running back in the April 25-27 draft. Hunt won't be eligible to play until Nov. 10 against the Buffalo Bills because the NFL suspended him for the first eight regular-season games.
"I think there’s depth at the running back position [in the draft]," Dorsey said.
OK with OBJ?
Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. reported to Browns headquarters on April 1 for the start of the team's voluntary offseason workout program, but he left town the same night and has been vacationing.
Dorsey was asked for his stance on Beckham's offseason plan.
"Anytime, as an organization, you have a first-year coaching staff and you're installing new offenses and new defenses, it's good to be here, but let's remember the CBA created this where it's a voluntary situation," Dorsey said. "I think he's an experienced enough player that he'll understand what he has to do to put himself in the best position and put this team in the best position, and that's how I look at this."
Ready for prime time?
When the NFL unveiled the regular-season schedules of all 32 teams Wednesday night, the national presence the Browns will have this year stood out.
Ten teams have the maximum of five scheduled prime-time games. The Browns are one of three teams with four scheduled prime-time games.
"The players get excited to play in prime time," Dorsey said. "But it also gives the country a chance to see when we play at home at FirstEnergy how passionate the fan base truly is and how exciting football is here in Cleveland."
Dorsey said the key to the Browns succeeding in the spotlight will be to "stay consistent with how you approach each game, stay consistent in your routine."
If there's one position the Browns clearly ought to shore up, it's linebacker. Dorsey cut Jamie Collins last month, leaving Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey as the returning starters. Genard Avery, a fifth-round pick last year, and free-agent acquisition Adarius Taylor are candidates to enter the lineup. Help should be on the way, though.
"The current guys we have on this roster have played a lot of football," Dorsey said. "I think there are some guys in this draft class worthy of drafting at certain spots, and I think that’s how you go about this thing. There are other avenues of acquiring football players as well."
Position to watch
Another spot Dorsey will likely address in the draft is cornerback. It's the only position, excluding special teams, where a new player hasn't been added this offseason.
The top three corners from last year are coming back: Denzel Ward, Terrance Mitchell and TJ Carrie. But the fourth and fifth corners on the 2018 depth chart, Briean Boddy-Calhoun and E.J. Gaines, were allowed to walk out the door as free agents last month.
"You can’t have enough cornerbacks on your team to move this thing forward because of the way the NFL has gone in terms of the throwing component of it," Dorsey said. "So we’ll explore all opportunities at the cornerback position, and if we think it’s going to help this organization moving forward, then we’ll try to acquire a cornerback."
Offensive lineman Austin Corbett and defensive end Chad Thomas seldom played as rookies last season after Dorsey picked them in the second and third round, respectively.
Now Corbett is the favorite to start at right guard — Dorsey traded Kevin Zeitler last month to the New York Giants for defensive end Olivier Vernon — and Thomas is positioned for a significant role.
"[Corbett] was making growth in the 2018 season every day when you see him working at his craft, and I think that he's going to make tremendous strides here in the '19 season," Dorsey said. "[The starting right guard job is] not given, nothing's given in this thing. But I'm sure he's one of those guys that's going to stand up to the challenge.
"Chad’s a very talented football player. Usually guys in the first year to the second year make exponential strides and growth, and I see him getting a lot of playing time this year. I can see him getting some rotational playing time and really developing into a really good football player."
• Dorsey said he views recently signed strong safety Morgan Burnett as a starter opposite free safety Damarious Randall. The GM said trade-acquisition Eric Murray "can play both safety positions, he actually may play a little bit of nickel corner as well and he’s a phenomenal special teams player, too."
• Dorsey didn't sound like he wants to draft a kicker or punter. "In Green Bay, we drafted a kicker. It didn’t work out too well," he said. "... There’s also been a punter we drafted, too. That didn’t work out too well, either."
• Dorsey credited vice president of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith for discovering recently signed kickoff and punt returner Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi, who hasn't played football since 2016, when he was at Phoenix College. "It'd be a great story if [he makes the team], but he’s got to come and show that, you know what, he deserves to be here," Dorsey said.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Browns coverage at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByNateUlrich and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.