BEREA — Browns coach Freddie Kitchens doesn't have a beef with Odell Beckham Jr. over the superstar wide receiver skipping the team's voluntary minicamp last week.

And Kitchens isn't fazed by the agent of running back Duke Johnson asking the franchise to trade the player.

But Kitchens does have a problem with reporters who criticize Beckham's absence and assume Johnson's days with the team will end soon.

The NFL granted the Browns an extra minicamp because Kitchens is a first-year head coach. Beckham didn't show up, though. He reported to Browns headquarters April 1 for the first day of the voluntary offseason workout program, but he left town that night after his introductory news conference and has since been vacationing and training on his own.

"Of course, I would rather him be here than not here, but I understand why," Kitchens said Saturday as the NFL Draft wrapped up. "I talk to Odell every day. He knows what we’re doing offensively every day.

"It's better for us to have him here, us being a new staff, but if we can’t have him ready to play when he shows up, they need to find a new coach. All right? They need to find a new position coach. He will be ready to play. Don’t worry about that."

Receiver Jarvis Landry, one of Beckham's best friends, didn't participate in the minicamp, either.

Johnson has yet to report to Browns headquarters since the conditioning program began at the beginning of this month. The same day Dorsey signed running back Kareem Hunt on Feb. 11, the GM said Johnson wasn't expendable "yet." Johnson's agent requested a trade last month, but Dorsey held onto him through the draft and didn't select a running back.

"Duke’s under contract," Kitchens said. "I don’t know where all this trade talk started happening. People just assumed that we’re going to trade him because we signed another good football player. Me, personally, I like good football players, and I like as many of them as we can get.

"Then it’s our job to get them the ball and to enable them to help us win in whatever role that is. Duke Johnson is on this football team. Duke Johnson will have a vital role on this football team, and Duke Johnson will help us win football games. So am I surprised that he is still here? No, not one bit, and I haven’t wavered."

Kitchens practically scoffed at the idea that Beckham's absence could interfere with the offense's camaraderie.

"I’ll tell you this about Odell Beckham and Baker Mayfield: I think they have a pretty good relationship, and they’ve formed pretty good camaraderie," Kitchens said. "They’ve worked out for two summers in California, and I don’t see their camaraderie being a problem."

Kitchens pointed out Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award the past two seasons after missing training camp.

And Kitchens even raised his voice while making it clear he's frustrated with suggestions that Beckham being away is a detriment to the new coaching staff.

"I also understand that you guys are trying to define and draw lines in the sand between coaches and players and players and players, and that isn't going to happen anymore," Kitchens said. "And there’s no problem with Odell not being here. I’d rather him be here. He’s not here. It’s voluntary. That’s what the word voluntary means.

"He can decide to come or he can’t. But under no circumstance am I going to say that I’m pissed off at Odell for not being here. He’ll be ready to play, and ultimately that’s the only thing I want, for him to be ready to play when we start kicking off in September and he will be. I promise you."

It's reasonable to believe team chemistry could be harmed if Johnson is disgruntled. Kitchens, however, doesn't see that happening.

"I’m just going to shoot him straight and tell him what his role is and then show him when he gets here and things like that," Kitchens said. "All the rest of that is up to him and what he decides to do. My decision is not based on how he feels. My decision is based on what’s best for the Cleveland Browns and this organization.

"At this present time, it’s best for Duke Johnson to be a member of the Cleveland Browns, and everybody feels that way. So him asking for a trade and stuff like [that], it doesn’t matter to me. He’s a Cleveland Brown, and if he shows up, Duke’s the type of guy that’s going to show up, and he’s going to do his job and he’s going to do his job well. And that’s all I can ask for as a coach. His opinions and his demands and stuff like that, I’m not impacted by that one bit."

The Browns are scheduled to hold voluntary organized team activity practices May 14-16, May 21-23 and May 28-31. Beckham might participate in some of them, but it remains to be seen. Then there's a mandatory minicamp June 4-6, which are the key dates to watch in Johnson's situation.

 

Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.com. 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.