BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Freddie Kitchens got intensely defensive about the Browns new offensive star. Odell Beckham Jr. isn't in any trouble with his coach.
Kitchens' voice rising to deliver his message, Cleveland's first-year coach said Saturday he's not upset that Beckham has skipped the first two phases of the team's voluntary offseason workout program.
"Of course, I would rather him be here than not here, but I understand why," Kitchens said. "I talk to Odell every day. He knows what we're doing offensively every day. He will be ready to play. Don't worry about that."
While his teammates — with the exception of disgruntled running back Duke Johnson — have been practicing and developing camaraderie, Beckham, who was acquired in a March trade with the New York Giants, has been training in California.
Kitchens dismissed the idea that Beckham not being around could have a negative effect on the Browns. He pointed out that NFL defensive stars Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald have not been with their teams in previous years for offseason workouts.
"Now, it benefits and it is better for us to have them 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 head coach and they need to find a new position coach," said Kitchens, hired in January after a successful interim stint as offensive coordinator last season.
Beckham has drawn some criticism for his absence, which some have viewed as more evidence that he's a selfish player.
And while Kitchens would prefer Beckham was at every practice and meeting, he's not letting the issue sidetrack the Browns.
"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 ain't gonna happen anymore," Kitchens told reporters. "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."
Beckham spent five sometimes rocky seasons with the Giants. He was excited for a new start in Cleveland, but other than coming in for an introductory news conference on April 1, he's been elsewhere.
Earlier this week, Jarvis Landry posted on social media that he's training and promised Browns fans that he'll be "the best version of myself on and off the field."
Kitchens isn't concerned about Beckham's time away impacting his connection with Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. The pair has trained together in the summer.
"I'll tell you this about Odell Beckham and Baker Mayfield," Kitchens said. "I think they have a pretty good relationship and they've formed pretty good camaraderie. They've worked out for two summers in California and I don't see their camaraderie being a problem."
As for Johnson, who asked to be traded after the team signed Kareem Hunt, there had been speculation the Browns would deal him this weekend. But that didn't happen, and Kitchens seemed confident Johnson may stay around.
"Duke is under contract," he said. "I have said this for like a month now, I don't know where all this trade talk started happening. People just assumed that we are 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 is our job to get them the ball and to help 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 in this football team and Duke Johnson will help us win football games. Am I surprised that he's still here? No, not one bit. I haven't wavered and never said anything different other than that."