As John Dorsey walked toward the tunnel closest to the Browns' locker room at FirstEnergy Stadium on the night of their recent preseason finale, the general manager peeled off one of his trademark sweatshirts and handed it to a fan in the front row.

"I saw this little girl, about 7 years old, and I saw her dad who was so excited," Dorsey said Wednesday. "Then there were all these 15 years olds around there, and I'm like, 'Let's give it to that little girl.'"

Whereupon she repeatedly shrieked, "Thank you!"

Those are two words Dorsey has heard time and again from Browns fans in the buildup to Sunday's regular-season opener against the Tennessee Titans.

Coming off a 7-8-1 record in quarterback Baker Mayfield's rookie season, Dorsey made several splashes in the offseason, none bigger than trading for superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in March, and the Browns became the most hyped team in the NFL less than two years removed from their historically bad stretch of 1-31 under the previous regime.

"You're happy for the fan base of Cleveland because they have hope," Dorsey said. "I'm happy for [owners] Dee and Jimmy Haslam 'cause slowly but surely we're going to get this thing to where it's supposed to be, and it's back to relevance because the Cleveland Browns should be one of the iconic franchises in the National Football League."

Dorsey discussed some key aspects of the resurrected organization with Beacon Journal/Ohio.com Browns beat writer Nate Ulrich. Below is a sampling from their question-and-answer session.

NU: What's your feel for the team's identity?

JD: "You leave training camp with the sense that these guys genuinely like each other, and they're willing to say, 'You know what? We'll reach for those expectations already set for us,' with the understanding that you play on Sunday like you prepare that week. ... Are they ready for it? I believe they are. I like the direction we're headed. I like how the coaching staff has applied pressure in a good way, putting them in stressful situations. There's no drama here. These guys have one focus."

NU: You've preached "don't believe the hype," but the talent is here. Shouldn't playoffs be the expectation this year?

JD: "This is a good football team, and I think what you do is you have a degree of humility in this thing, but you work your ass off. You outwork everybody else, and you live by that mantra — we're going to be competitive in the AFC North. But those young guys, they have to come together. I think they're beginning to come together as one. Now the question is, 'Have you done the little things?' ... Little things are taking care of the task at hand, being diligent in the meetings, when it's your time to practice, you practice. You kind of work yourself up to that game, and you've got to know personally that you're ready to play that game and you've done everything in your power to get ready."

NU: Freddie Kitchens struck me as very fiery in his first training camp as head coach. He yelled at officials, water boys and players. What were your impressions?

JD: "To achieve any amount of success, you're going to have to have a little bit of stress. You're going to have to stress the organization. You're going to have to stress the players and put them in stressful situations. ... He's very honest, very trustworthy. I think players respect that, and if they don't do their part, he's going to call them out and identify it, move on, get it off his chest. Where he is right now, this is where I envisioned him to be."

NU: Freddie is expected to win a lot as a rookie head coach, and you hear about all the narratives — big personalities, prime-time games, national spotlight. How is he equipped to handle all of that?

JD: "He's consistent, and any true leader is consistent on his daily messaging. That's one piece of it. The second part of it is he's a broad enough thinker with enough talented staff around him to execute a game plan and a very good game plan. I think he can coach the coaches. I think he can lead the team, and he is the face of the organization. And he's right where he should be."

NU: Freddie has said, "If you don't wear brown and orange, you don't matter." Baker Mayfield has said, "If you're not with us in Cleveland, you're against us." How much has that us-against-the-world mentality united them and galvanized the team?

JD: "I don't know if it's us against the world. You know what? It's the Cleveland Browns. It's the guys in that locker room. It's the people within this building who are the Cleveland Browns. The only thing you should be focused on is what's in this building and what you have to go do to achieve success. Football's hard, and you have to be consistent and you've got to work at this s***. And I think if you preach that, and if you get enough guys in that locker room who embrace work, who embrace competitive situations, they're going to go out and work their fannies off and try to achieve that success."

NU: When you talk about expecting Baker Mayfield to make a 20 to 25 percent jump from year one to year two, what do you mean? You're not referring to statistics, right?

JD: "No, I'm not. What I'm talking about is you want to see progress. ... Any second-year player [in the NFL] should be exponentially farther along [than the previous season] because as a rookie you're thrust into something and you have zero idea what to expect. ... Now he can get in the routine. He can get in the structure. He has a comfort with the offense, the play calling, knowing where certain players are going to be. Now he can concentrate on the broader developments of understanding defenses, letting the game slow down. That's the key for him. When that game slows down, it's just react. ... Thinking and reacting — that's the difference between a sack and not a sack or a big play and not a big play."

NU: Are those the differences you've seen in him?

JD: "We talk about consistency, right? So what I've seen in consistency every morning when I walk in this building at 6:15 a.m., I stop by one room, [the quarterback room], just to see if there's a consistent message. Guess what? He's always in there, breaking film down. That's pretty good. That's a guy that loves football. That's real."

NU: With him being the starter out of the gate, unlike last season, he's himself, at the front of everything, and it seems like he's really taken ownership.

JD: "It's the quarterback's team. That's a natural thing for him. He's done that wherever he's been. You have to understand when he first got to Oklahoma as a walk-on, he brought everybody together, learned the playbook within a month and had everybody practicing. That's just the kind of energy he has, and it's God-given. It's not forced."

NU: Odell Beckham Jr. has said he hasn't reached his full potential. So what do you think the next step should be for him?

JD: "From a talent perspective, he's got it. The whole thing now with him is being able to now don't think about it. Just go and play the game of football to your capability. You're in a good situation. You're around people who love you. He is an ultimate competitor, too. He's going to go out there and do his thing. I have high expectations. We all do. I mean, he's proven it over history."

NU: He didn't get much time in training camp because of a hip injury. Would growing pains with him and Baker be natural early on, or do you think it'll be all systems go because of the talent?

JD: "There's a timing mechanism in there, and I think they've been working at that. And I think we should be fine here. I have no problems. I don't worry about that."

NU: Do you agree with Freddie that the defensive line is the strength of the team?

JD: "I think it's pretty good. I think that we have eight or nine really good defensive linemen. And why is that so important? It's because you're going to rotate these guys to keep everybody fresh. Then when it comes down to the fourth quarter, you have your thoroughbreds in there, and let them go get it. That's why you try to build that depth."

NU: Defensive end Myles Garrett is 10 pounds lighter and thinks he's faster than he's ever been in the NFL. He's healthy, and you've surrounded him with Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson. What do you think this year will look like for Garrett, and what's the challenge for him?

JD: "It's being consistent. With Myles, he's not going to get double-teamed all the time. Guys can't slide to him all the time. You have enough bodies in there who are effective pass rushers to apply the pressure, so that, statistically, will help him. Now, for his growth and maturity, he's got to improve the overall game because football is not just about sacks. It's about the run game. There's so many different things there. Improve your overarching game is what he should be working on."

NU: When you traded right guard Kevin Zeitler in March to the New York Giants for Vernon, you had a vision in mind (Dorsey hoped 2018 second-round draft pick Austin Corbett would seize the job). But you had so many guys in that spot in training camp, and you've added two others (Wyatt Teller and Justin McCray) with recent trades. Has the situation at right guard been frustrating?

JD: "No, I think there's some guys here, and I think now what we do is we line up and play football. I'm very happy with the depth we have there. We have nine [offensive linemen] on the 53[-man roster] who rightfully deserve to be in the National Football League. So I'm good with that."

NU: When young players come here, regardless of position, who would you point to and say, "Watch that guy — be like that guy?"

JD: "[No.] 24 [running back Nick Chubb] because I think he is consistent day in and day out. He's a hell of a football player. He loves the game of football. When I talk about competitiveness, good football players, good in the locker room, everything that exemplifies what this organization is trying to achieve, I think it's Nick Chubb."

NU: With wide receiver Antonio Callaway, I know you think he's immensely talented, but now you're working through this suspension with him. Is he down to a last strike or has it reached that point? (Callaway will miss the first four games because he violated the NFL's substance-abuse policy)

JD: "Antonio Callaway has done everything he possibly can since this news broke upon him, and I applaud him for the steps he's taking to grow as a person. And that's all you want in this situation."

NU: Which player was the most pleasant surprise for you in training camp, a guy who ascended and opened some eyes?

JD: "Who reached his potential faster than I thought he would — [undrafted rookie punter] Jamie Gillan."

NU: How did you discover him? Was it a hometown thing? (Gillan moved from Scotland to Dorsey's hometown of Leonardtown, Maryland, where "The Scottish Hammer" started playing football as a high school senior)

JD: "No, it wasn't a hometown thing. It was our personnel department went through the stats, brought it to my attention, and then it just so happened he happened to be from my hometown. I knew who he was, but then when you really start to watch him, you go, 'Holy f***! I didn't know he was that good.'"

NU: Obviously, you're comfortable with the rookie kicker-punter tandem of Austin Seibert and Gillan, even though Gillan hasn't held much for placekicks, otherwise you wouldn't have made those decisions, but a lot of people wonder if that's a risk.

JD: "I think both of those guys have earned the right to be here."

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.