BEREA, Ohio (July 29, 2005) -- There were no tackling or blocking drills and the most physical contact might have taken place in the line of thirsty fans inside the beer tent.
For his first training camp practice as Cleveland's coach, Romeo Crennel let his players off easy. The Browns wore orange shorts, no shoulder pads and were finished in a little over an hour.
Day 1 was fun.
"Yeah, it was a nice way to start things off," said defensive back Gary Baxter, one of the club's many offseason free-agent signings. "But you better believe we'll be in pads tomorrow."
Crennel's decision to ease the Browns into camp was welcomed by some of the club's veteran players, who were put through much tougher workouts the past four seasons by former coach Butch Davis.
But Davis is long gone, and so is much of Cleveland's roster from a team that went 4-12 last season and has won only 30 games since returning to the NFL as an expansion club in 1999.
Under Crennel, the former New England defensive coordinator who has won five Super Bowl rings, the Browns are starting over -- again. New general manager Phil Savage spent the offseason clearing out unproductive and overpaid players in hopes of restoring pride to one of the league's most storied franchises.
There is much more work to be done, and Savage is realistic about what the Browns can accomplish this season.
"The thing we're trying to establish is being a first-class organization and put a first-class team out there," Savage said. "Can that happen overnight? Probably not, but I think we'll make a lot of strides this year."
On a spectacularly sunny afternoon, Crennel, Cleveland's third coach since '99, was one of the first to walk onto the practice fields. He was welcomed by an estimated 2,500 fans, some of whom were in midseason form with chants of "Here We Go, Brownies, Here We Go, Woof Woof."
The outpouring of loyalty stunned some of the new Browns.
"Amazing," said quarterback Trent Dilfer, who came over in a trade with Seattle in March. "I've been told about the fans here. What an awesome environment to practice in. I feel a great sense of duty to come out and give this city my best. I feel a great burden to win for the city."
Like the Browns, Dilfer is getting a fresh start. The 33-year-old player will provide valuable experience and leadership -- two things that were in short supply the past few seasons.
One of Crennel's main goals this season is to eliminate some of the negativity that has shrouded the Browns since their return in '99.
Dilfer thinks the best way to deal with Cleveland's recent rough football history is to ignore it.
"My kids last night were talking about having nightmares when I was gone the last 10 days," he said. "I said, 'Girls, just stop talking about it. If you stop talking about it, it will go away.' That's kind of how I feel about this. I don't want to talk about it. I wasn't here. I'm sympathetic about what the fans went through, but I really don't want to hear about what has happened here.
"I'm focused on what we need to do and winning football games right now, not waiting, not building. I want to win right now because every football team I've played on, that's how I feel."
The Associated Press News Service
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