DraftBrowns Staff Writer, Ryan Alton
It’s a new day in Berea, that’s for sure. By now you’ve likely seen the pictures of some of the artwork inside the newly renovated facility at 76 Lou Groza Boulevard. You’ve probably noticed tweets or quotes in the press from players expressing excitement about the new schemes and styles of the new coaching staff. And you’ve probably read interviews from the coaches and front office executives expressing their hopes for the future while trying their best to manage expectations for the present.
But let’s be honest. It can all look and sound pretty familiar, perhaps even repetitive, to a fan base that is used to change every other year. After a while, it all starts to sound the same. Its not surprising that many fans are tone deaf to the typical buzz words, coachspeak, and jargon that gets thrown around every time a new group comes in and plants their flag inside the hallowed halls of Cleveland’s most revered sports franchise.
Its understandable why its hard for many to let down their guard and buy in. Even the most optimistic fans, such as myself, have to employ a certain level of caution going forward. Without any wins to back it up as of yet, the idea that the Cleveland Browns organization is FINALLY turning a corner is a tough pill to swallow. That is, until you see the changes with your own eyes. That’s what I and a few of my DraftBrowns cohorts had the privilege of witnessing when we chose to visit Day Two of Browns Training Camp on Friday.
I first met Brent Stehlik when we were freshmen at Mount Union College in the fall of 1995. Of course, I had no idea at the time that, one day, he would be the Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer of the Cleveland Browns and I would be a teacher from Columbus who happened to merge a passion for writing with a passion for sports. It just so happened that the Browns (with the help of social media) would become an avenue where our paths would cross again.
When I informed Stehlik, who is a Cleveland fan like many of us, that I and a couple of friends were coming up for a visit to camp, he didn’t hesitate to invite us on an all-access tour of the facility and made sure that we were treated like… well, like we belonged there. Like we were welcome. Like what it said on the sign of the lot across from the facility where we parked… ‘friends and family’ of the Cleveland Browns. Something I have a hard time believing, prior acquaintance notwithstanding, anyone under the previous ownership would’ve offered.
In addition to a myriad of other complaints about previous regimes from fans and media alike was the limited amount of access to information and the people in charge. As it should with any organization, it all starts at the top. The previous owner of the Browns was reclusive, many times nowhere to be found, and it often felt like that cloak rained down over every aspect of the organization. The result, since 1999, has been a crummy team with a crummy front office coupled with crummy public relations that took its constituents for granted. It didn’t take much for me to realize that THAT is no longer the case in Berea.
The new owner of the Browns does not hide. Whether he’s talking about his passion for football or his unfortunate legal circumstances, Jimmy Haslam is out front and visible for everyone to see. From what we experienced on our visit to Berea, so is everything about the NEW Browns. Symbolically, gone are the walls that once existed in some parts of the facility under the stewardship of Randy Lerner. In their place is an open and refreshing workplace where collaboration is valued and accomplishments are celebrated by all.
One front office executive, who has spent time with several professional sports organizations, expressed to us that he’s never worked in an environment “as fun or as enjoyable” as this one. And walking through the second floor of the complex, we got the sense he wasn’t alone in that feeling. Its readily apparent that everyone has bought in and everyone takes equal pride in the collective success of the organization.
You can deduce that truth when you hear stories of coaches stopping to help celebrate an achievement had by someone in marketing. Or when someone in the pro personnel department takes the time out to motivate sales interns by offering incentives for reaching specific goals. People who, in some front offices wouldn’t even be allowed to associate with each other, are working together toward a common goal… to bring the Cleveland Browns back to greatness. And it was out in the open, plain for all to see. Needless to say, it was difficult to conjure images of an evil, brooding Joe Banner presiding over everyone with an iron fist like has often been perceived by fans and media alike.
Quite honestly, I don’t want to get into much further detail about what we saw inside the facility. Not because I was sworn to secrecy, but frankly, I don’t want it to seem like we’re bragging or rubbing it in. At the end of the day, we’re just fans who got to enjoy something hopefully more fans will get to experience as time goes on with this particular group in charge. I thought hard about simply sharing my observations related to what happened ON the field but I felt like it would be a disservice, both to the fans and to the Browns, to not relate some of the experiences we shared inside as well. What I will say is that we saw a fresh and infectious atmosphere where the aura of the NEW Browns seemed to bounce off the walls with a vibrant energy. In less than a year, Joe Banner and Jimmy Haslam have taken a losing culture absent of accountability and transformed it into a place with excitement and people all pulling in the same direction. Granted, it may not have trickled down onto the playing field in any sort of tangible way that we can measure just yet. But I can almost guarantee it will. It’s only a matter of time.
Other Random Thoughts on #BrownsCamp…
-Ahtyba Rubin looks very cut and chiseled for a big man. He tore through the upright bags with noticeable power and fluidity. He, Desmond Bryant and Phil Taylor will be a very, very physical defensive front. There is little doubt they will help make life easier on the linebackers in Ray Horton’s defense.
-Barkevious Mingo is as tall and lean as advertised. (I failed to ask about his weight after he posed with my son for a picture.) Its hard not to notice his arm length and ability to use his athleticism to fire out and get around blockers and into the backfield. Just wait until he lines up in space!
-Continuing what we saw from mini-camp in June, Chris Ogbonnaya got a lot of work at fullback with the first team offense. Owen Marecic was catching passes from the jugs machine before practice. Might be too little, too late.
-So many of the pieces on offense seem to be interchangeable with the receivers, tight ends and backs lining up all over the field. A slew of guys lined up out wide including Gary Barnidge and Trent Richardson. This tells me Norv Turner is going to exploit mismatches wherever he can while keeping defenses guessing.
-The DBs had a great day, as has been reported. That means the QBs struggled. At this stage of camp, I don’t think it’s worth getting too worked up about. It’s good to see each side of the ball trying to go out and one-up each other everyday. A strong, competitive vibe is evident among the players.
-Greg Little has come a long way since his rookie year, both in his technique and his work ethic. His attention to becoming a better receiver is obvious and I think it would be wrong to assume he won’t have a major impact on offense this season. The same can be said for Davone Bess.
-Brendan was pleased to see that the Browns ran some plays out of the Pistol formation during the portion of practice that we witnessed. Either they’ve been reading his DraftBrowns pieces in Berea or they’re clearly adapting the offense to the strengths of their personnel. We’ll assume it’s the latter. Or both.
-Finally, we would like to thank Brent Stehlik, his assistant Cari, and everyone who made for an unforgettable experience for us at Training Camp 2013. Rest assured, we’ll be coming back soon! Go Browns!!