It turns out that the memorable quotes coming out of Cleveland these days aren’t all emerging from the increasingly unfettered mouth of Baker Mayfield. Not surprisingly, though, the latest noteworthy comments concern the Browns' rookie quarterback and his blunt takes on former head coach Hue Jackson.
“I promise you this, Baker’s not going to blow smoke up anybody’s ass,” Browns offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens told reporters Thursday. “So, if he said it, that’s what he feels, and I’m standing behind Baker Mayfield."
Kitchens, who moved up from running backs coach into his new role after both Jackson and former OC Todd Haley were fired in late October, added, “The guy spoke what he felt to be true, and I don’t know when it became big news to speak the truth. If that’s what he feels, then he should voice it."
Following Cleveland’s win Sunday at the Bengals, for whom Jackson had worked in the past and whose staff he rejoined earlier this month, Mayfield made it clear that he was not full of warm feelings for his ex-coach. He kept Jackson literally at arm’s length in a postgame greeting, then said to the media that he didn’t appreciate the fact that Jackson “was in our locker room asking for us to play for him, and then goes to a different team we play twice a year.”
After being criticized as immature and hypocritical the following day on ESPN’s “First Take,” Mayfield responded to the show with an Instagram comment in which he called Jackson “fake” and pointed to the coach’s 30-plus losses in his short tenure in Cleveland.
The former Heisman Trophy winner, taken No. 1 overall in April’s draft, subsequently was unrepentant about his remarks, saying Wednesday, “I’m not a cookie-cutter quarterback, never have been, never will be. … I didn’t like the move and people don’t have to care. I’m not looking for anybody’s approval."
Mayfield said, “I speak my mind,” and Kitchens claimed Thursday to be more than okay with the public disdain for Jackson. “I don’t have a problem with Baker saying anything like that,” the OC said.
“I mean, ‘Hard Knocks’ is in here, everybody’s looking for a story. Well, he’s giving you a story,” Kitchens continued. “He’s telling you the truth. Everybody’s wanting an inside look at the truth, well hell, that’s the truth.”
After specifying that Mayfield was speaking “what he felt to be true,” Kitchens claimed not to “know anything” about the “fake” jab made on Instagram. Rather, he framed his support for his quarterback in the context of the importance of team unity.
“It’s about what’s said here. And more importantly, it’s about our fans, our organization and our locker room, most importantly,” he said. “It’s about what those guys feel in there. And when they start believing that — which they do — then you have something. And I think that’s the point we’re getting to.”
It was notable that Kitchens was willing to endorse with such forthrightness remarks that portrayed another member of the coaching fraternity, let alone someone for whom he recently worked, in such a negative light. As some observers pointed out Thursday, Kitchens was brought to Cleveland by Haley, who took over the play-calling from Jackson this season and whose own conflicts with the coach led the team to decide to fire both of them in a clean sweep.
In addition, Mayfield has turned the promotion of Kitchens into quite the positive for the franchise. Since he became OC, the quarterback has thrown just one interception to nine touchdowns while leading the Browns to a 2-1 record, and has the NFL’s second-best passer rating in that span. In six games under Jackson, Mayfield went 1-4 as a starter, with eight touchdowns and six interceptions.
“We have people that we believe in calling the plays now,” the quarterback said, after the win over Jackson and the Bengals.
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