The seeds of Freddie Kitchens' rise to head coach of the Browns were planted a year ago when former offensive coordinator Todd Haley gave his friend an opportunity to call plays in the preseason finale against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

Although Kitchens has repeatedly explained he'll call the offense's plays during the upcoming regular season, the coach revealed Tuesday night on his radio show he has allowed offensive coordinator Todd Monken to call plays this preseason and will do so again Thursday night when the Lions visit FirstEnergy Stadium for the fourth and final exhibition game beginning at 7:30 p.m.

"I haven't really fully decided [the play-calling plan], but I know Todd will call some of them," Kitchens said on his show, which airs on the Cleveland Browns Radio Network. "Some of it depends on what we do at the quarterback situation initially, but he'll definitely get the opportunity. He called some of the other games. We just didn't advertise it. Just didn't feel the need to. In case it went bad, I didn't want him suffering the consequences from it.

"But we'll do something. I always want to continue to develop, let guys develop, let guys develop in this system, more importantly, just in case. You know, you never know."

Last year, General Manager John Dorsey and ownership were impressed with how Kitchens handled an offense led by then-rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield in the Browns' 35-17 win over the Lions, albeit in a practice game. And Kitchens' first chance to call plays proved to be more important than anyone realized at the time.

When the Browns fired coach Hue Jackson and Haley on Oct. 29, they promoted Gregg Williams from defensive coordinator to interim coach and Kitchens from running backs coach/associate head coach to offensive coordinator. After the Browns went 5-3 under the Williams-Kitchens tandem in their final eight games, Kitchens emerged as the new head coach.

"I was going to prepare and everything just like it was my role, and I was hoping someone else would see it because I'd never gotten the opportunity anywhere else," Kitchens said of calling plays in the 2018 preseason finale. "So I was glad for the role, for the opportunity, and I was definitely treating it as an interview for other teams, not necessarily here."

Monken has called plays before. He did it last season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in all but one of their games, and they finished third in the NFL in yards (415.5) and 12th in points (24.8) per game. They ranked first in passing (320.3) and 29th in rushing (95.2).

Kitchens has insisted Mayfield and the starters won't play Thursday. Kitchens indicated Garrett Gilbert and David Blough, the third and fourth quarterbacks on the depth chart, respectively, are expected to receive extended playing time.

"I think both of them will get their opportunities, and we'll see what they do," Kitchens said. "They've had a pretty good training camp from the standpoint of practice reps and game reps. They carried it over quite nicely, and [we'll] just look for the same."

 

Focus on receivers

The battle for the last couple of roster spots in the receiving corps will be under the microscope.

All NFL teams must trim their rosters to 53 players before 4 p.m. Saturday, and Dorsey got a head start at receiver by placing D.J. Montgomery on injured reserve last week and cutting Jaelen Strong on Monday.

The GM also signed former Ohio State quarterback-turned-receiver Braxton Miller last week, and whether he'll make a late push for a job is something Kitchens will be watching.

"He's picking up the offense," Kitchens said Tuesday during his post-practice news conference. "That tells you a little bit about his learning ability. We'll see if we can put him in some positions to make some plays Thursday night. He is doing well, though.

"I'm looking forward to seeing him play Thursday. I'm looking forward to seeing a bunch of these guys play Thursday. The funny thing about competition is you're either exposed or you get exposure. Competition brings that to the forefront."

At receiver, the Browns are led by Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins and Antonio Callaway. But with Callaway suspended for the first four regular-season games, at least two more receivers will make the team, and the contenders are Miller, Damion Ratley, Derrick Willies, Ishmael Hyman, Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi and Dorian Baker, who missed Tuesday's practice with an illness.

A hamstring injury has kept Ratley from playing this preseason, but Kitchens said he expects the 2018 sixth-round draft pick to face the Lions.

 

Other bubble guys

Trevon Coley was a full-time Browns starter the past two seasons, but there probably won't be enough room on the roster for him and fellow backup defensive tackles Devaroe Lawrence and Daniel Ekuale. It's a safe bet two of the three will make the team.

Fourth-year Browns tight end Seth DeValve fully acknowledges his job is hanging in the balance as he competes with Rico Gathers, Pharaoh Brown and Stephen Carlson to provide depth behind David Njoku and Demetrius Harris.

During a conference call Saturday, Kitchens said incumbent kicker Greg Joseph will face the Lions after rookie fifth-round pick Austin Seibert captured the momentum in their competition by going 4-for-4 on field goals during last week's 13-12 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in preseason game No. 3.

Coley, DeValve, Joseph and Seibert are familiar names to Browns fans, but there are many other players on the roster bubble. Kitchens said he and Dorsey will address those who wind up being cut.

"It's a commitment, especially when you go from 90 to 53 [players]," Kitchens said. "They have committed to us for a while. Some of them have been going on four months. I think we can fit it in to commit to them."

 

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.