For the first time since January, the practice fields in Berea were full of players, coaches and other Browns personnel eager to take in some football.
Rookie minicamp was the occasion, and it provided coaches their first on-field glimpse of the Browns' newest arrivals in an orange helmet and white or brown jersey. The camp, which was held May 14-16, was the first rookie minicamp the Browns have held since 2019, and that made the scenes of players conducting drills and receiving tips from coaches feel even more special.
Our "Building the Browns" crew was there to capture it all. From their arrival to the building to the rookies' first practice reps with the Browns, the production team didn't miss anything from one of the most notable weekends of the offseason.
Here were the biggest takeaways from what they highlighted in Episode 4 of 2021.
1. NFL life kicks in for rookies
NFL rookies never forget their first days of practice in rookie minicamp.
The three-day schedule contains hours of on-field work and time spent with coaches in meeting rooms to put each player on the fast track toward being fully prepped for training camp. It's the first time a player can put on the helmet and jersey of their new team and showcase just how ready they are for the NFL.
But before the practices begin, there's a few other fun tasks to accomplish.
Headshots, equipment customizations and finally seeing an NFL locker with their name labeled are among them, and they typically give each guy a refreshing welcome to life in the NFL.
"I've been waiting for this since I was 7 years old," running back Demetric Felton said as he stood in front of his locker. "Just being able to see this and how I finally got my foot in the door, it means a lot."
A behind-the-scenes glimpse of the pre-practice procedures can also offer a glimpse of each of their personalities. No scene embodied that more than the headshot shoot for CB Greg Newsome II.
Newsome, the Browns' first-round pick, donned a bright yellow pair of Crocs for his photoshoot. He said he prefers to wear the unique shoe brand, which is waterproof and popular for its comfort in any conditions, when he walks around the building.
"I think I was a trendsetter," he said with a smile. "They're a big versatile shoe for if you need to run or something. Then, I can go in the shower if I need to. I just need that versatile shoe.
"I can't wait to see everyone in the building wearing an orange pair of Crocs."
Before Newsome took his headshot, he deliberated with staff photographer Matt Starkey on whether to smile or give more of a menacing stare to the camera. Starkey took pics of both expressions and let Newsome choose the one he wanted for his primary picture.
"I know my mom is gonna want me to choose the smile," he said. "We can go smile."
Check out exclusive photos of the rookies and coaching staff working during the first week of phase 2 of the offseason
2. Coaches, rookies take advantage of increased 1-on-1 time
During a normal rookie minicamp, the practice fields in Berea are full of 40 or more players all splitting reps and spending time with coaches.
This year, the fields were far less sparse.
Just 18 players were in Berea for minicamp as a result of the COVID-19 protocols still in place by the NFL for the offseason. That meant each position coach only had a few players to work with in practice and meetings, but the additional 1-on-1 time was embraced by both sides and could pay significant dividends over the course of the offseason.
One of the top beneficiaries of the process? Fourth-round draft pick James Hudson III, who was the only offensive tackle on the minicamp roster. He received hours of individual coaching time with offensive line coach Bill Callahan, assistant offensive line coach Scott Peters and offensive quality control coach John Decoster.
"You're talking about a master class with Coach Callahan and Coach Peters working with one guy for hours and hours each day," offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. "I don't think you could buy that on the street. Those are such great lessons you can get on 1-on-1 teaching. It's incredible."
3. 'All hands on deck' for replicating a full team
Not everything is ideal when the minicamp roster is limited to just 18 players.
The number, of course, doesn't come close to what's required for a full team practice, but that didn't stop the Browns from trying to replicate the feel of having the whole roster on the field.
Coaches chuckled as they slid red helmet caps over their heads to simulate an opponent. They weren't being asked to juke the rookies out of their shoes — the drills were just a simple walkthrough — but it was another example of Browns coaches adapting to slight changes from what's considered "normal" in the NFL.
"It was all hands on deck," Stefanski said. "We had strength coaches, coaches from our performance staff — you name it — lining up on offense to give a look to our guys. It was a walkthrough, which was a good thing for those guys because they would've gotten run over if it was a team drill."
The tactic was successful. Coaches got a first-hand look at how quickly the rookies could react to certain play calls and reads to both rushing and pass plays, which is typically what they look for during team drills in a normal rookie minicamp.
"We felt like the young guys picked it up so much, … and we just mixed all the coverages we put in and gave them runs and passes," Woods said. "They handled it very well."
4. Optimism growing for young secondary
No position group on the minicamp roster had more players than the secondary.
With Newsome, S Richard LeCounte III — a fifth-round draft pick — and CBs Emmanuel Rugamba and Kiondre Thomas, Browns coaches received plenty of quality looks at one of their most reformed areas of the roster. Newsome will be in competition for starting snaps when training camp begins, while LeCounte is a promising add to the safety room whom the Browns believe could be a heavy contributor down the line.
Rookie minicamp provided a short but promising look at what's in store for the position in the fall.
"I really feel good about the talent of the DBs," Woods said. "We had three corners and a safety. I know everyone asks about Greg, and I thought he did very well. The thing that sticks out to me is he's very competitive, very smart and picks things up fast. I think it'll be really good for the group to just see how hard he works and how much time he puts into it."
5. Finally, some football action shots
Last offseason, we waited nearly eight full months to see videos of Browns players in helmets and uniforms working out together on the same field.
Those workouts weren't possible until the start of training camp as a result of the pandemic. Now, we have them back when we normally expect them, and BTB made sure to capture plenty of them throughout the show.
From Newsome running several practice reps to second-round linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah being coached through individual coverage drills, BTB left a few segments of the show solely dedicated to watching players run through drills.
Take them in now while you can. After mandatory minicamp in mid-June, the players won't be back on the field until late July for training camp.