November 27, 2014

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Brian Dulik: New Browns coach Rob Chudzinski channels his inner fan as training camp opens

Browns coach Rob Chudzinski waited his entire life for this moment, wondering if it would ever arrive. When it did, on Thursday afternoon, he couldn’t contain his excitement.

Chudzinski conducted his first training camp practice as an NFL head coach, soaking in every second — and sharing as much of it as possible — with the standing-room only crowd of 2,692 in Berea.

“High-fiving the people that came out today and hearing how excited they are about the Browns, it was awesome,” Chudzinski said, smiling as he scanned through the memories in his mind. “Today was a real thrill for me in a lot of ways, as you probably could tell.

“Just looking out and seeing some of those young faces — wearing their Browns jerseys — and knowing how much that same experience meant to me, that’s what it’s all about.”

Growing up a Browns fan in Toledo, Chudzinski recalled how much he looked forward to attending training camp practices at Lakeland Community College.

Now 45 and a nine-year NFL coaching veteran, “Chud” admitted having similar emotions as the clock ticked down to the opening session at Cleveland’s team training facility.

“It was a wait, and I think today was the longest day waiting,” the former Browns and Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator said. “We had all our guys out there real early, and it was good to get that first practice under our belts.

“Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work to do, but this was the first step that we had to take.”

As Chudzinski noted, everyone on Cleveland’s roster was on the practice field well before the 4 p.m. scheduled start.

The vast majority of the crowd also was on site early, illustrating the excitement surrounding the new-look Browns and their new coach.

Early in the 2½-hour session, Chudzinski walked across the field and encouraged fans to cheer louder for his team. When a small group began to bark appreciatively, he pumped his fist in rhythm and elicited even more applause.

But it didn’t stop there.

When Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas and defensive end Brian Sanford got into an altercation during an 11-on-11 drill, Chudzinski was one of the first people to jump into the pile, attempting to separate the combatants.

“I don’t know if Joe started on top and ended up on the bottom or not, but I was in the melee there, too,” said Chudzinski, a three-year starter at tight end for Miami (Fla.). “It’s training camp and the energy is high, so those things are going to happen.”

What doesn’t usually happen at training camp, though, is a coach taking an impromptu victory lap following practice.

Chudzinski completed his dream day by shaking hands and exchanging pats on the back with dozens of fans in the general admission area. A handful of players were so impressed by the gesture, they walked over to join their coach in greeting the appreciative crowd.

“Chud is all in and he’s doing everything right,” said linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, the longest-tenured member of the Browns. “I know this is only the first day, so everyone is feeling optimistic about everything, but I’m telling you, there is a different vibe around here with him.

“The young guys have no idea what a great situation they’ve walked into because Chud has really put an emphasis on creating a winning environment.”

Wins and losses, however, don’t begin counting until Sept. 8 when the Miami Dolphins come to town.

In the meantime, Chudzinski will be graded on how much positive buzz he generates — both about the Browns and himself.

Day one, at least, was a smashing success.

“Communicating well, motivating very well, those are the things that I love about a coach,” wide receiver Greg Little said. “Chud is all of that.”

Contact Brian Dulik at brisports@hotmail.com.