BEREA – Assuming the weather cooperates, today’s practice may be the most enjoyable of training camp for fans. Players will wear pads for the first time.
Rookie coach Rob Chudzinski has never seen his team in pads, because NFL rules forbid them in the offseason and for the first couple of days of camp. It’s impossible to get an accurate gauge on a player in shorts, so Chudzinski has been counting down the days.
“We’re going to hit,” he said Friday. “We won’t be tackling to the ground. That doesn’t mean that nobody will be on the ground, but we are not tackling to the ground.
“We’ll hit. We’ll block. We’ll thud up and wrap up. It’ll be good work for us. It’s about time to get the pads.”
Drills have more energy when players wear pads – especially for the first time. Inside run drills have more meaning. And the sound of pads colliding can be heard across the field.
Chudzinski is most looking forward to watching the lines. Their one-on-one battles aren’t nearly the same in shorts.
“They have been trying to block each other and trying to get off blocks. We are being careful and we are working together to protect each other,” Chudzinski said. “Now that we have the pads on we still want to protect each other and be smart, but you can cut it loose and you can see the physicality. The finish is what you really get a chance to see.”
Veteran outside linebacker Paul Kruger can’t show his full talent without pads, but that doesn’t mean he loves dragging them out of the locker. The physical toll of the season really begins today and doesn’t end until January.
“You’re excited to get them on and get thumping a little bit,” he said. “At the same time, soreness and you have to get used to hitting and grinding like that. But I think everybody’s pretty excited to throw ’em on.”
Chudzinski said the team will be in pads again Sunday, and he’ll decide on the rest of camp going forward.
Receiver David Nelson practiced for the first time with the Browns, but was limited to individual drills. Nelson tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the opener last year for Buffalo. He signed with the Browns as a free agent in the offseason but couldn’t practice.
“We will continue to evaluate him,” Chudzinski said. “Hopefully we’ll get to upgrade him.”
Nelson (6-foot-5, 215) could be a key for the offense if fully healthy. With Josh Gordon (6-3, 225) suspended for the first two games, Nelson is the only one of the possible replacements with comparable size.
“He’s a big guy. He has big hands,” Chudzinski said. “He’s been productive. He’s played and he has experience.
“We’ll just have to get him out there. He hasn’t been in the system, so obviously he’s just been learning through meetings. Just getting out there and going through the route tree was a good starting point today.”
Defensive lineman Phil Taylor (calf strain) didn’t practice for the second straight day but appears close to returning. He worked with trainers on the side and looked good moving through the defensive line bags.
“I’m expecting him back in the next few days,” Chudzinski said. “He feels good and he worked hard on the side with the trainers. All reports I’ve gotten are pretty positive.”
** Gordon, who left practice Thursday with a cramp, was a full participant Friday.
** Backup offensive tackle Oniel Cousins rolled his ankle and left the field.
** Tight end Kellen Davis (knee sprain) and rookie offensive lineman Chris Faulk (knee surgery) again worked with trainers on the side.
NOT VERY NICE
As the players raised their arms while stretching, a fan yelled, “Raise your hand if you’re glad Shurmur’s gone,” referring to coach Pat Shurmur, who was fired after last season.
Running back Brandon Jackson raised and waved both hands.
Jackson was a healthy scratch for 13 games last year, played in only two and carried just eight times.
Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, hired as a special adviser in May after a two-year estrangement from the team, spoke to the team Thursday, then watched practice. He watched again Friday.
“Jim is obviously back with the organization and we are all very excited about that, so I asked Jim to talk with the players,” Chudzinski said. “He is going to be involved, and what a great resource for them to have. I encouraged them to get to know Jim and be around Jim, the greatest player of all time.
“Certainly, a lot of what he has done with the community and a lot of experiences he’s had I think can help the players. He just talked about being a professional and being a part of the organization.”
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
The new front office, led CEO Joe Banner and president Alec Scheiner, made several upgrades to the training camp experience for fans.
Fahrenheit restaurant from the Tremont area of Cleveland has a food truck with a menu that includes a Third and Long Burger, an All Beef Dawg and Off Tackle Tacos. Parked next door is a tropical shaved iced truck.
The fans can also enter a merchandise tent or a cold zone.
A two-story hospitality tent was constructed for corporate sponsors, and orange murals of Browns players wallpaper fences around the practice fields.
The team’s new head of security is recently retired from the FBI.
** Rookie Jamoris Slaughter, a sixth-round pick, worked at free safety with the second team. He missed all of the offseason program as he recovered from a torn Achilles tendon.
** Chris Owens and Buster Skrine are splitting time at starting cornerback opposite Joe Haden.
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