It was the final step in a process that began on Thursday, when 53 wide-eyed rookies began arriving at the Browns’ Berea facility from all parts of the country.
From Friday through Sunday, what media and other observers saw and heard were coaches taking the players through drills during walk-throughs and workouts on the outdoor and indoor fields. But the key to making this operation a true success also required the efforts of a number of people working behind the scenes to cover all of the players’ needs from transportation to meals.
“Obviously, you want to try to get everybody here as early as possible, but at the same time, you want to make sure when they do get here, everything is ready for them,” said Simon Gelan, coordinator of football operations for the Browns. “It’s coordinating between the different departments, making sure we’re all on the same page, and at the same time, making sure everyone gets checked into their airlines, making sure everybody gets here on time, and things like weather, plane delays all play a factor in trying to get everybody here by the time the meetings start.
“Usually within the first three or four days of the draft ending, we start planning for rookie minicamp.”
Once the players got on their respective flights and landed in Cleveland, they were shuttled to the facility and then the team hotel at the end of the day.
A typical minicamp day for the Browns’ operations staff started at 6 a.m. By 6:30 a.m., interns would shuttle players from the hotel to the facility. Following breakfast, the players attended meetings and went through an on-field walk-through before breaking for lunch. After lunch, players practiced, met with the media, and reviewed the playbook with coaches until leaving for the hotel at 6 p.m.
When the rookies reported on Thursday afternoon, they had to undergo physicals from the Browns’ medical and training staffs. After filling out medical history forms, players got a full internal medical exam, lab workups, a cardiologic test, and an orthopedic exam.
Players also received dental, dermatological, and eye exams at the facility.
“A lot of these guys have been through the (NFL Scouting) Combine and different things, so you review medical history from the Combine and pre-draft medical grades,” said Joe Sheehan, the head athletic trainer for the Browns. “Then, these guys are brought in for a comprehensive physical exam. It’s the first thing they do when they get here for rookie minicamp. It reviews medical histories, any current conditions and gives you an overall medical snapshot of each player before they step on the field.”
For check-in day at rookie minicamp, Sheehan and his staff arrived at the facility between 5 and 5:30 a.m., and stayed until about 8 p.m. He said it took more than half a day to complete physicals.
“While my role is perceived as handling injuries that occur on the field, a lot of it concerns preventing injuries that occur on the field,” Sheehan said. “From the corrective exercises to proper nutrition to proper hydration to educating guys on the benefits of recovery and the benefits of taking care of themselves outside of the building, expectations of their physical ability, it’s an all-encompassing approach and involves all of the key areas of our building working together.
“At the end of the day, it’s about allowing these guys to perform at a high level over a long period of time and giving them the resources and the assets to do that. It’s not a reactive take care of injuries. It’s more of a proactive approach to make sure our guys can stay on the field.”
OUTFITTING THE PLAYERS
Once the players underwent their physicals, they met with the team’s equipment manager, Brad Melland. Melland and his staff are in charge of outfitting the players for helmets, jerseys, shorts, cleats and socks.
But before the players were fitted for helmets and pads, Melland and his staff spoke to each of the athletes’ respective colleges to find out their clothing, helmet and shoulder pad sizes, as well as the types of helmets, facemasks, pads and shoes they wore.
“By the time they walk in here, get off the plane and get here by that Thursday, they have a locker already made up with all their shoes, clothes in it,” Melland said. “They come back to us in the equipment room and they’ll (get) knee pads, thigh pads, what they’d like to wear for training camp. Then, Jimmy (McLaughlin) will try it on them to make sure it fits them right. Then, they’ll come back, get their foot measured and make sure they get the proper shoes.
“Then, they get their shoulder pads, and with their shoulder pads on, I will try a game jersey on them and get all those sizes done. By the time the drafted guys and undrafted free agents are through, they are completely ready to go. We have all their sizes, from A to Z.”
Melland and his staff spent between 45 minutes and an hour with each player making sure the equipment provided a comfortable fit, which helps ensure the players will be safe when they step onto the field.
“That’s the utmost importance,” Melland said. “Our main goal is to see that helmet, and make sure it properly fits him. We make a recommendation. We never tell a player what he can and cannot wear.”
Melland and his staff are also in charge of cleaning the jerseys and clothes, as well as preparing the footballs used during practice. As soon as the players came off the field, equipment assistant Mike Thatcher was in the locker room ready to collect their practice clothing for washing.
“As they discard stuff and go in the showers, it’s grabbing that stuff, separating it and putting it in the wash,” Melland said. “That cycle there after practice will take three to four hours. Everything is hung back up, folded and put back in the players’ lockers.
“We’re always scrubbing footballs down, prepping them if you will. We’re always getting them ready for use in the future. The first step in ball preparation is scrubbing a ball with these brushes and getting the wax off of them.”
For the Browns, having a successful rookie minicamp involves much more than a player making an over-the-shoulder catch in the back corner of the end zone. It is making sure players are prepared and safe enough to help the team on the field and in the community.
“It’s a lot of coordination between a lot of departments,” Gelan said. “Whether it’s the training room, whether it’s player personnel, whether it’s our end, whether it’s the hotel, the airlines, a lot of people play a part in everybody getting here safely and in a timely manner. Everything from the itineraries, scheduling, tracking the flights, transportation to and from, the meals, plenty of people play a big part.”