Andrew Berry has been waiting to see players back in the Browns headquarters in Berea since he was hired as Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager in January.
The long wait finally ended last week when players, coaches and team personnel reported for the start of training camp. Players are back on the field. Coaches are back in their offices. Football is back in Cleveland.
But nearly everything about training camp is different because of the COVID-19 pandemic. All people in the building must socially distance, and chunks of the facility have been transformed to further allow everyone to keep their space. Masks are required for everyone indoors, too.
So far, however, everything has been smooth.
"We're just excited to have our guys back on campus, so to speak," Berry said Tuesday in a Zoom call with local reporters. "I wanted to acknowledge everything (coach Kevin Stefanski) has done to lead our coaches and staff. The coaching staff has been phenomenal through the virtual offseason program and into the summer and obviously into the early days of training camp."
Check out photos of the team working out Monday
The process to return to football has been arduous for every NFL team. Even though players and coaches are in the same building again, the Browns have taken extra precautions to ensure players are safe at all times. All team meetings will stay virtual until Sunday, and players are split into two groups for their conditioning, which will continue until Aug. 14 when full-team practices are allowed.
The tweaks to what was "normal" for football will continue into the future. But players and coaches understand that straying from the norm is the only way for football to be played this fall.
"I think the feedback has been largely positive," Berry said. "I think it's tough until you get in some of these NFL buildings. It's tough until you see how stringent and how strict and detailed the protocols are — not just within the facilities, but for things that would come down the line, whether it is travel, hotels, busing, you name it. We all understand that there's a shared responsibility in this thing over the next several months. We're excited to attack that challenge."
For Berry and Browns scouts and coaches, training camp will provide the first opportunity to evaluate players on an actual field. The timeline for them to do so has been limited since the offseason began and football activities were moved to virtual settings, but Berry believes they'll have enough time to find the Browns' most competitive roster when Week 1 arrives on Sept. 13.
Berry did admit, however, that some processes are much different. It won't be as easy for the Browns to conduct tryouts for free agents — they'll have to undergo testing — and it certainly will be more difficult to evaluate players without any preseason games.
But every NFL team will deal with these circumstances, and Berry feels the Browns are well-equipped to field a roster that will win games no matter how many obstacles arise from the pandemic.
"I think we will have plenty of opportunity to evaluate our own roster," he said. "We will have plenty of practices. I know we are starting a little bit later than normal, but we will have plenty of practices to see all of our veterans, see all of our bubble guys and see all of our young guys."
As long as players are in the building, the Browns are charging forward. Berry has already seen how much trust players and coaches have to adhere to protocols and stay healthy.
He's also just happy to see players and coaches, period.
"It's been a long time coming," Berry said, "and we're looking forward to getting to work."