Austin Seibert's relationship with the Dawg Pound is complicated.
Seibert, of course, loves the famous section of front-row fans at FirstEnergy Stadium for their passion and intensity every Sunday. Cleveland's home-field advantage is strongest in the Dawg Pound, and any opponent backed up on the east side end zone will have a tough time blocking out the section's thunderous roars.
But for Seibert — and any kicker — the section is a double-edged sword. It's also famous for its challenging wind swirls that can make field goals and PATs a nightmare for kickers. Seibert's first two field-goal misses, which didn't come until November last season, were kicks that succumbed to the always-changing breezes of the Dawg Pound.
So this season, Seibert has prioritized mastering the section as a kicker.
"Picking up points on the Dawg Pound end are very key and vital to my success," he said Wednesday in a video call with local reporters. "We just got to go down there and hit a good ball. Odds are if it's windy, and you don't hit a solid ball, it's going to be harder to make that kick."
The Browns returned all three of their core specialist players for 2020 in Seibert, P Jamie Gillan and LS Charley Hughlett. The trio converted on 25-of-29 field goal attempts last season but missed five of 35 extra point attempts. A large chunk of the total misses came on kicks facing the Dawg Pound.
When Seibert compiled his offseason list of areas to improve most, the top priority was obvious: kicking in the Dawg Pound.
The kicking trio made an early visit to FirstEnergy Stadium a week before the Browns practiced in their home Sunday, and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer divided the total kicks Seibert took on either end of the stadium with a heavy emphasis on kicking toward the Dawg Pound.
The crew attempted 36 field goals. 24 of which were toward the Dawg Pound.
"To me, it's kind of breaking that psychological barrier," Priefer said. "I think he's fine. He's stronger and more confident than he was in a year ago. I think he's gaining more and more confidence. Hopefully he'll have success early and often."
The view Seibert faces when he looks at the goal posts will be much different than last season. The section likely have small or no groupings of fans this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Seibert won't have thousands of eyes staring in his direction when he sets his aiming spot between the uprights.
Seibert has been able to tune out the crowd and lock in on kicking, and although it may seem easier for him to do that this year, he's still mentally preparing for the added pressures of in-game scenarios.
"It's going to be different kicking in an empty stadium," he said. "It'll be weird at first, but we'll have crowd noise pumped in there and it's still going to be a game, so there will still be those pressure scenarios because we're trying to win games here."
The crowd element is just one of many factors all kickers must adapt to when playing in Cleveland. In the Dawg Pound, the toughest factor is the wind, which Seibert checks every gameday morning before heading to the stadium.
The forecast usually provides a reasonable barometer for how gusty the conditions might be throughout the game, but the projection doesn't usually provide a minute-by-minute outlook of the wind direction in the Dawg Pound — that's simply unpredictable.
"You can't rely on (forecast) all the time because winds change and things change," Seibert said. "When we're down there, it's important I warm up toward the Dawg Pound end to get a feel for it. I just got to find my lines before the game, warm up and get used to that wind."
Those senses will come more naturally for Seibert as he continues to build his comfort at FirstEnergy Stadium. The home field advantage for the Browns is stronger when their kicker can master one of the most difficult kicking corners in the NFL.
Seibert's plan is to conquer that goal this season.
"My goal is to hit an A-ball every time," he said. "If I do that toward the Dawg Pound, there won't be any issues."
Check out exclusive photos from Tuesday's practice in Berea