BEREA — The dearth of quality free agent kickers available might be the only thing keeping the Browns from bringing in competition for struggling incumbent Greg Joseph and fifth-round draft pick Austin Seibert.
As the Browns try to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2002, who the kicker will be on Sept. 8 is the team's most urgent question and at the moment its Achilles' heel.
Yet coach Freddie Kitchens tried to snuff out the notion — at least for now — that the Browns are seeking outside help, while giving Joseph and Seibert an ultimatum to “get their act right and get the job done.”
When the issue of the dubious list of unemployed kickers was brought up, Kitchens said, “Is that a problem? I don’t know. It will be soon, I guess. I don’t know.
“We’re not trying to bring in a new kicker right now, if that’s what you’re asking. We’ve got two guys right here that can kick the ball a long way. We’re not looking to replace them right now; we’re looking to get these guys better and continue to get better. The process of evaluation and the process of judging them has not concluded yet. When it concludes, then we’ll make that decision.”
That didn’t rule out the possibility that the Browns might have their eye on someone who could be released in final cuts.
Joseph went 5-for-7 on field goal attempts in practice Monday, and Seibert was 4-of-7.
During a field goal period, Seibert missed from 37 yards and 53 yards, and Joseph hit the right upright on a 53-yarder and was wide right from 56. Both got another chance in team drills, with Joseph hitting a 44-yarder and Seibert missing wide left on a 40-yarder.
That followed up misses in Saturday’s 21-18 preseason road victory over the Indianapolis Colts, when Joseph was wide right from 53 yards and Seibert wide left from 52.
“I want the ball to go through and not outside those yellow poles,” Kitchens said.
There is no caveat for 50-yard attempts, Kitchens said, adding, “As long as it wasn’t short, I’m fine. I think both of them have plenty of leg. I don’t want to send the field goal team out there thinking, ‘Uh, maybe we’ll make it.’ I want to know that we’re going to make it.”
Oklahoma product Seibert might be rattled, Kitchens conceded.
“Yeah, I don’t know. He’s got to get it figured out and, if I make him nervous, I plan on being at the games,” Kitchens said.
Joseph, in his second year out of Florida Atlantic, made 14 of 17 field goals last season, but missed four extra points. The Browns lost four games by three points or less, with Joseph on the team for three of those after being signed going into Week 3.
The Browns visit Tampa Bay for a Friday night game and this could be a do-or-die week for Joseph and Seibert.
“Hopefully they’ve been treating it like that,” Kitchens said. “Everybody’s fighting for a job right now.”
There has not been a common thread in the kickers’ misses, Kitchens said. Special teams coach Mike Priefer said earlier in training camp that they had spent the offseason correcting flaws in Joseph’s approach to the ball.
“It goes down to technique and having the confidence to go do it,” Kitchens said. “But sometimes to get that confidence you’ve got to do it correctly, you’ve got to do it with success. And I can’t kick it for them.”
Receiver Damion Ratley participated in team drills during a padded practice at training camp for the first time after being sidelined with a hamstring injury, even taking a few snaps with the first team.
A sixth-round pick out of Texas A&M in 2018, Ratley caught 13 passes for 144 yards last season. He said he must put aside the thought that he has only two weeks to earn a job before Aug. 31 final cuts.
“If I thought about the window being smaller, that would be my only mindset, be like, ‘Got to do this, got to do that,’ ” he said. “I don't think like that.”
Kitchens said Ratley was making contested catches in spring minicamps, and he needs to see those again.
“I like his range and his length. I like his speed,” Kitchens said of Ratley, 6-2 and 200 pounds. “He has deceptive top speed. I just need to see consistency. I need to know what I am getting when he gets on the field. I need balls caught that are put on him.”
Safety Damarious Randall met the media with the top of his hair dyed blue, his payoff on an NBA Finals bet after his Golden State Warriors lost to the Toronto Raptors.
Randall’s hair first came out green because of a problem with the color application.
“This is the end, definitely the end, but I actually kind of like the colors,” he said of the bet. “It might be orange next, who knows?”
Kitchens hopes newly crowned UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic will attend practice, but said he might need help from the media to get the Euclid native, a Valley View and Oakwood firefighter, to camp.
Kitchens saw only highlights of Miocic’s fourth-round knockout of Daniel Cormier on Saturday night in Anaheim, California, after Miocic took a beating in the first three rounds.
“I did get a rundown of it, and it seems like he really never gave up and just kept fighting,” Kitchens said. “Sometimes the best ability is reliability, availability and dependability, and I think he is a great demonstration of that.”
Tight end David Njoku (knee) returned to practice and went through individual drills, but he didn't wear a helmet.
"We're trying to build toughness, man," Kitchens quipped. "I'm just kidding. He's got a cut on the back of his head and stitches would come out. It's nothing major. It's just he can't have his helmet on right now."
Kitchens added Njoku "feels great" when it comes to his knee.
Tight end Seth DeValve (concussion) resumed practicing and participated in team drills. DeValve had been out since suffering the injury July 29.
“My expectations is for him to pick up where he left off and keep getting better, just like everybody else,” Kitchens said. “We can’t do anything about what happened to Seth.”
Defensive end Chad Thomas (sprained neck) came back to practice for the first time since he was carted off the field Aug. 12. Cornerback Tavierre Thomas (hamstring) also returned.
Defensive end Myles Garrett practiced after sitting out Saturday's preseason game, but he was limited to individual drills.
Cornerback Denzel Ward did his most extensive work in team drills in weeks. He had been idle during them because of a minor, undisclosed injury.
Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. continued to sit out team drills, but his hip injury didn't prevent him from making an acrobatic, one-handed, under-the-leg catch during individual drills.
Randall said Beckham’s lack of practice with the first team doesn’t concern him.
“Odell is Odell. He’s a one-in-a-generation type of talent,” Randall said. “He will be ready to go Sept. 8. I don’t have any concerns with that and I don’t think none of us do. He should be ready to go.”
Players who continued to work out beside the field instead of practice were receiver Antonio Callaway (high ankle sprain), running back Dontrell Hilliard (hamstring), safety Juston Burris (hamstring), safety Jermaine Whitehead (groin), cornerback TJ Carrie (hamstring) and linebacker Sione Takitaki (hamstring).
Receiver Ishmael Hyman, offensive lineman Kyle Kalis and defensive tackle Brian Price remained idle with concussions.
— Nate Ulrich
• Eric Kush served as the first-string right guard to open practice, but Kendall Lamm rotated into the spot later in team drills.
• Undrafted rookie receiver D.J. Montgomery was excused from practice for a personal reason, Kitchens said. Undrafted rookie tight end Mik'Quan Deane missed practice, but the team did not disclose the reason.
• A game-worn home jersey of Hall of Famer Jim Brown sold for $75,000, with 53 bids solicited by Robert Edward Auctions. The owner, employed by the Cleveland Parks and Recreation Department, worked at League Park and Municipal Stadium. According to family lore, Brown refused to sign a football for the man, which led to a heated argument. Brown later apologized, signed the ball and presented him with the jersey as a goodwill gesture.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.