0-16 to playoffs? Swagger key to turnaround for some Browns

BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns do not lack confidence.

From Josh Gordon saying the receivers group is the NFL’s best -- he said it at minicamp, before he left the team -- to Jarvis Landry recently telling SI.com that if the team plays to its potential it "can win the Super Bowl," the Browns also do not lack bellicosity.

Which seems a bit perplexing from a team coming off a winless season.

Shortly after minicamp ended in June, linebacker Christian Kirksey woke up confident, which led him to Twitter:

No, he did not have a raging fever the day of the tweet.

Friday, on the second day of training camp, Kirksey said he had no regrets even though the Browns have just one win the past two seasons.

"I know a lot of people are saying, ‘You haven’t won a game,’ this and that," Kirksey said, "Well, if we keep that mindset then we’re not going to win a game."

The swagger brought varied reaction from teammates.

"You ask any player, and their goal is to win a Super Bowl," quarterback Tyrod Taylor said. "Of course, to get to that you have to get in the playoffs. My mindset has always been one game at a time, starting even with preseason. Just gradually getting better week in and week out and doing whatever it takes to go 1-0 that week.

"If we stack enough of those 1-0s, we will be in the playoffs and you will be in the Super Bowl conversation."

"I love the confidence," guard Joel Bitonio said. "I think those guys have put in work. They’ve seen what we’ve done in the offseason. They’re inspired. They want to make a play, but me personally, we’ve got to play a few games first."

"We can talk about it and say it’s going to work, but everybody is going to say that at this point of the year," center JC Tretter said. "Everybody’s going to say they’re Super Bowl contenders and they’re playoff contenders and they’re gonna be better."

In one sense Kirksey is sharing what has been felt by many analysts. The Browns gained some national chatter this offseason with their roster overhaul, which led many to believe they could the "surprise team" this season.

Coach Hue Jackson’s constant mantra about those predictions: "We have work to do."

"I love that our players are excited about the team that is in the locker room, but at the same time, statements do not mean anything; the action (does)," Jackson said.

Jackson also has first-hand experience of the annual "Browns bell curve of optimism," which has been present since the team’s last winning season -- in 2007.

The annual happening sees the season end with a poor record and much disgust. Soon after, excitement about free agency and the draft increases optimism, which usually peaks just after minicamp, which is when Kirksey posted his tweet. Reality sets in during training camp and when the losing starts during the season, optimism plummets.

It’s a perfect bell curve.

"We’ve talked a lot," Bitonio said. "We talk every offseason. I want to go out there and I want to start playing games and start winning game before we start preaching we’re going to go to the playoffs."

Bitonio and Tretter both emphasized they appreciate the confidence, something Kirksey said is prompted by "a different feel" with the team.

"Hey, it’s my tweet, my page," he said. "I’m going to say what I feel and I really feel like this team is headed in the right direction."

To buttress his claim, Kirksey pointed to Taylor, who "has changed the culture on the offensive side of the ball," as well as new additions to the coaching staff and on the field. The offense, he said, is "fully loaded" following a major overhaul by general manager John Dorsey. Overall, the Browns could have 10 new starters.

"Just seeing the work ethic in these guys," Kirksey said. "I’ve been here for going on five years and this team that we have together right now is one of the better units that I’ve been around."

For the record, Kirksey was correct in one other prediction/guarantee in his young NFL career. In 2016, he said after an 0-9 start that the Browns would not finish 0-16.

"We went 1-15 that year," Kirksey said.

Which means he was right.

"I didn’t make this guarantee to match that one," he said. "When I really feel something I’m gonna say it. I’m confident in these guys. I’m a firm believer in putting it out there, speaking it to existence, and then it happens."

Frame of mind seemed to have much to do with his reasoning.

"Once you believe it, you see it, you go do it," he said. "That’s why I really made that tweet. Show people that, OK, we’re not stuck in the same losing mentality."

"Hopefully, those things become a reality," Jackson said. "You have got to believe something first before it ever happens. Our guys are saying those things, but at the same time, we have got to back it up."