Browns welcome pressure ahead of opener vs. Titans

Browns welcome pressure ahead of opener vs. Titans

It’s not a stretch to say this is the most eagerly anticipated season in this iteration of the Cleveland Browns.

Add Beckham to the talent already on hand — defensive end Myles Garrett, wide receiver Jarvis Landry, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and left guard Joel Bitonio — and you have a team some think could win the AFC North.

So this version of the Browns, who returned as an expansion team in 1999 and have played in just one playoff game since, proclaim they are more than ready to start the season Sunday against the visiting Tennessee Titans.

“I’d play them in the parking lot,” Mayfield told reporters recently. “I don’t really care.”

Nor should he, not after a rookie season in which he took over as the starter in Week 4 and completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 3,725 yards with a 27-14 touchdown-interception ratio. Giving Mayfield a top-tier pass-catcher like Beckham to go along with a great possession receiver like Landry should only enhance his development.

The concerns with Cleveland are more external than with the roster. Can new coach Freddie Kitchens display the brainpower to out-scheme opponents and the touch to motivate 53 players instead of just a few? How does this franchise handle high expectations outside its locker room? And can it display the discipline that has escaped it in recent years?

For his part, Kitchens is pointing at process as a guide to success.

“Everybody is focused on today and doing their best job for the Browns and these fans today,” he said. “I am excited to try and teach these guys. Our coaches are excited to teach these guys and go watch them implement it.”

There might not be as much buzz around Tennessee, but it believes that it can win the weakened AFC South. A division which shed itself of perhaps its top quarterback by retirement (Andrew Luck) and one of its biggest impact defenders by trade (Jadeveon Clowney) in the last two weeks of preseason is definitely up for grabs.

The Titans are coming off their third straight 9-7 season, missing the playoffs after reaching the divisional round in 2017. They lost to Luck and Indianapolis in the final game of Week 17 last year with Marcus Mariota on the shelf due to injury.

Mariota is back for a fifth year with Tennessee, working under yet another offensive coordinator after Matt LaFleur’s departure to become the head coach in Green Bay. Tight ends coach Arthur Smith was promoted to fill the spot, though he is expected to keep most of the same scheme.

A slow start for Mariota could mean the end of his time with the Titans, with former Miami starter Ryan Tannehill now in reserve.

“I have been dinged, I have been banged up and I understand that,” said Mariota, who has missed games in each of his four seasons, though only eight total. “I just have to do my job to be available for this team, and hopefully throughout the year, that will happen.”

Tennessee will play without left tackle Taylor Lewan, serving the first of a four-game PED suspension. Dennis Kelly replaces him and will likely have to deal with Garrett.

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