BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – Like the first day of school, everyone was all smiles in Berea as the Browns kicked off their 2017 training camp.
The franchise is coming off of its worst season ever – a disastrous 1-15 campaign that nearly drove head coach Hue Jackson to tears on multiple occasions and tested one of the youngest teams in the league.
With a fresh start upon them in 2017, they hope the worst is behind them.
“We try to erase that,” receiver Corey Coleman said. “We try not to think about last year but deep down inside, it is still a burning fire. No one likes to lose. We are a totally different team. Everyone is focused. It is going to be an exciting year.”
Linebacker Christian Kirksey, who declared midway through the 2016 season that saw them start 0-14 they would not go winless, is looking forward and not in the rear view mirror.
“The past is the past. We have a new season ahead of us, new opportunities and new goals,” Kirksey said. “All we can work on is the now and what is in front of us. Last season has been wiped out of our minds. We are just trying to focus on the new players we have, some of the new coaches and some of the new schemes. We are just trying to control what we can control, and that is what is in front of us.”
Aside from youth, the team was decimated with injuries.
Starting defensive end Desmond Bryant was lost before camp began. Starting offensive linemen John Greco and Joel Bitonio needed Lisfranc surgery, Coleman broke his hand and Joe Haden played through not 1 but 2 groin injuries.
As this year’s camp kicks off the team is healthy.
Coleman and Garrett have both recovered from offseason injuries while Greco and Bitonio returned ahead of schedule in time for camp and were able to participate in some team drills Thursday.
The Browns still have no idea who will start at quarterback, continuing what is now an annual tradition. Cody Kessler enters camp as the No. 1 followed by rookie DeShone Kizer with veteran Brock Osweiler standing by if needed.
Cleveland’s youth movement in 2016 was costly as far as the win-loss column was concerned and with 23 draft picks over the last 2 years in the fold this year, the reality is that 2017 could be just as difficult.
But that doesn’t mean that the Browns are lowering their internal expectations or conceding anything this season.
“Our job to here is to win games, a lot of games,” executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said. “We are not going to put a number of wins on a season, but we also understand that we have to establish the way we work and prepare, and the wins will follow from that.”
Simply put Brown and head coach Hue Jackson are looking for progress. And some patience too.
Sure, those aren’t the p-words fans want to hear but talking about making the playoffs at this juncture – at least publicly – coming off of a 1-15 season would just make the Browns sound foolish and unrealistic.
While youth will once again be a factor this year, it won’t be used as an excuse according to Kirksey.
“This is the National Football League. Age is not a factor,” Kirksey said. “You can play the best guys available, the best guys that have mastered their position. Even though they’re young – I played as a rookie – age is not a factor. Those guys are ready to be out there playing with us.
“I’m excited to see what our young guys can do, especially when they put on the pads here in camp and just get ready to go out there and have fun and win games.”
Honestly, the Browns will need health and a little bit of luck to take a dramatic step forward but they hope the additions of 3 first-round picks – No. 1 pick Myles Garrett, safety Jabrill Peppers and tight end David Njoku – will begin the process of moving the team in the right direction.
“We don’t really talk about last year too much,” Peppers said. “Everyone is 0-0 right now. We just talk about a new attitude and buying into a new culture, both the rookies and the vets. We all know things have to change, and we know what we have to do to change things. That is what we are going to do. It is as simple as that.”
The typical hype that accompanies the start of training camp hasn’t been dialed up this year, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Browns.
There’s no need for unrealistic expectations, but patience for fans will be key.