Cleveland Browns training camp kicks off this Friday. I know, it threw me off, too. Thanks to the highs local fans are feeling from the Cleveland Cavaliers and Cleveland Indians, football kind of snuck up on us.
That said, since expectations for the Browns are lower than ever, it’s probably for the best that they float under the radar as long as possible. While Cleveland has almost always labeled its upcoming season as a “rebuild,” this is the first year the team appears to actually mean it.
As a result, it’ll be interesting to see how the Browns look once camp opens up. New coach Hue Jackson and his staff were pulsing with energy during OTAs earlier this year, and the assumption is this will only increase once the pads come out.
There are more than a few things Jackson will have to do to get his tenure with the team started on the right foot. The biggest one, though, will be changing the way camp is run. The past few regimes have overseen remarkably soft practice sessions, and Jackson has to end this trend from the get-go.
Cake-walk training camps have been the trademark of the past three coaching staffs Cleveland has seen. Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski and Mike Pettine were all notorious for going easy on players even as the regular season neared. Local and national reporters watched in awe as the Browns practices were full of the same aggression you’d see in a pillow fight.
The drawbacks of such cupcake camps were noticeable as soon as the season started. I dare you to come up with the last time the Browns looked prepared for Week 1. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
More often than not, Cleveland has opened its regular season with flat losses, filled with a lack of discipline and general awareness. These were likely a result of lackadaisical training sessions which were low on the necessary amount intensity. So were the alarming amount of minor injuries like hamstring pulls sidelining players for a few weeks due to poor conditioning
It’s Jackson’s job to ensure everyone, from the rookies entering their first year in the NFL to the vets who’ve enjoyed the past few lazy summers in Cleveland, that this tradition ends now. From everything we’ve already heard, he’s off to a good start.
Last year, Pettine and crew were very generous in handing out days off for veterans. It was quite alarming how often we’d hear players were absent due to “veteran off-days.”
Earlier this year, when Jackson was asked about said veteran off-days, he essentially answered “I don’t know what those are.” Sure, he’ll likely give breathers here and there, but Jackson doesn’t seem to be interested in handling his first Browns training camp with kid gloves.
His OTA sessions seem to imply this as well, as players got significant workouts in even without pads. Rookie Corey Coleman was called out almost immediately for not being in shape. Mind you, he was in decent condition, but apparently not up to Jackson’s standards.
Cleveland’s new coach doesn’t need to be a dictator, enforcing authority the second he steps on the field. The Browns already saw that with Eric Mangini. It didn’t end well.
That said, Jackson intensifying training camp is a necessary step in order to get Cleveland off to a good start. Every player needs to be in top condition, and opening the season looking drastically unprepared needs to be a thing of the past.
If we’re to believe Jackson, he’s already planning on making a significant change to the way things go. Attendees should get ready to hear a siren often, a tactic Jackson is utilizing to let his players know when he’s about to up the intensity. In his words, it’s his way of making sure everyone is ready to play “real football.”
“We’re going to put the ball down and it’s kind of everything goes,” Jackson said. “We go after it. You’ve got to teach your team how to play football.”
Teach your team how to play football. It’s hardly a novel concept. At the same time, such a concept has been absent in Cleveland for quite some time.