BEREA, Ohio >> On a shelf in his locker just below where Myles Garrett keeps his collection of miniature model dinosaurs, his orange helmet sat unused.
It’s going to stay that way for a while.
As Garrett begins his indefinite suspension from the NFL for swinging a helmet and striking Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph in the head, the Browns took their first steps today in a season that as of now will not include their best defensive player.
Garrett’s ban, which pending his appeal on Wednesday includes at least the final six regular-season games and the postseason, is a major setback for the Browns (4-6). They are 2-0 in the AFC North for the first time and were finally gaining traction after a slow start.
Now, another hurdle, perhaps the biggest one yet.
“We have a resilient bunch of guys,” first-year coach Freddie Kitchens said as the team started preparing for Sunday’s game against Miami. “They have accepted the challenge every week. It seems like it has been something different every week. That is the way football seasons are, though.”
While the Browns regroup and refocus, they’re still grappling with emotions in the aftermath of Garrett’s stunning loss of control, an on-field incident that has dominated discussion around the league and on social media for days.
Garrett’s actions have not been condoned by any of the Browns players, but defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson believes Rudolph bears at least some responsibility for what happened. After being taken down by Garrett after a pass, Rudolph unsuccessfully tried to pry off the Pro Bowler’s helmet and kicked at him. Once he got to his feet and lost his own helmet, Rudolph kept charging Garrett.
“It’s on camera what he’s doing,” Richardson said. “There’s no hiding it no matter what he says in the media.”
Rudolph was not suspended but will likely incur a stiff fine. Richardson said that’s not nearly enough. In his view, Garrett was defending himself.
“Of course he was,” Richardson said. “If a guy scratching at your face, what you going to? The helmet was overboard, let’s get that clear. But defending yourself, I don’t blame him for defending himself at all.”
Richardson said Rudolph escalated the incident by grabbing Garrett’s face mask and attempting to pull his helmet off.
“You can’t antagonize a fight and then claim bullying, you get what’s coming to you,” Richardson said. “Of course Myles overreacted. … He was protecting himself. I don’t blame him. Guy keeps rushing me, even with the helmet off, he’s asking for it. Just leave it at that.”
The league also suspended Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi one game for shoving Rudolph. His appeal was heard today.
Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey was suspended three games for punching and kicking Garrett as he lay under Pittsburgh guard David DiCastro. Pouncey’s appeal is being heard by officer Derrick Brooks on Tuesday.
Richardson feels Rudolph got off easy and deserves to sit out some games.
“If you’re going to suspend Myles indefinitely, I don’t know, a game or two. A game?” he said. “Make it sound like you just can’t be a quarterback and do as you please in this league. Have some type of consequences for your actions as well. I don’t blame Pouncey for protecting his quarterback. I’d go overboard for my guys, too. So nobody’s knocking him for that. That’s what football is.”
Kitchens refused to address whether he felt Rudolph deserved to be disciplined.
“Everybody here saw the tape,” Kitchens said. “I am just here to support. I will support Myles. Our team will support Myles. I am not going to get into that. You saw the tape.”
Kitchens was pressed about seemingly sending mixed messages: condemning Garrett’s behavior, but also blaming Rudolph.
“I never said anything like that,” he said. “I did not insinuate anything. I was asked for a comment, and I was not making a comment on it. I just asked if you saw the tape, so form your own conclusion. I have my conclusion that I did not say. There is no excuse for that to happen on a football field. I know that, Myles knows that, and all of the players in the locker room know that.”
Kitchens met with Garrett on Saturday, and plans to continue reaching out. Garrett, 24 and the top overall pick in the 2017 draft, is not allowed to be at the team’s facility during his suspension.
“Myles Garrett’s a good person,” Kitchens said. “We’re not going to pile on Myles. He had a bad lapse in judgment and that’s it. I’m still a Myles fan and I’m going to support him. … Myles is part of our family.”