The mid-preseason shift between training camp to standard season procedures is often subtle. Players still practice, study tape and hope to impress coaches on the field to boost their individual team stock for a spot in the NFL.
The Browns begin that shift now after their final training camp practice Wednesday, but the end of this camp feels like it carries a bit more significance.
In his first year as an NFL head coach, Freddie Kitchens placed a heavy emphasis on maintaining physical practices and molding the Browns into what he hopes will be one of the toughest teams in the league.
The Browns held just four open practices in shorts. Two of those were from the first two days of camp, when the NFL doesn’t allow teams to practice in pads.
After nearly five weeks of camp with Kitchens, most players can say they’re ready for the battles and bruises of game day.
“(Kitchens) is going to get you ready for games,” running back D’Ernest Johnson said. “When he says practice is harder than the games, it really is. We’re coming out here and beating each other every day. Pounding each other. That’s the type of coach he is. He’s going to make sure you’re mentally and physically ready for games.”
Check out photos from the last day of Browns Camp by team photographer Matt Starkey
The Browns held 15 open practices for fans and practiced twice on the road with the Colts in Indianapolis, where a noticeably large amount of Browns fan were in attendance. The bleachers at the Browns practice facility were built to accommodate nearly double the normal capacity of past training camps, and fans packed the seats and lined the fields each practice.
Kitchens opened his press conference Wednesday by acknowledging the daily support from fans and mentioned how the attendance on the first practice of training camp looked no different than the last.
“We tried to give as many open practices as we could,” Kitchens said. “The support was tremendous. We never lacked of any fans being out.”
Now, Kitchens hopes to coach his team up to the expectations the franchise set when they went all-out in acquiring talent over the offseason and readying the Browns for a run to the playoffs.
The hype was palpable when nearly 40,000 fans packed FirstEnergy Stadium for a practice on Aug. 3, and it was certainly felt after each impressive play in camp. Wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry completed plenty of their signature one-handed catches, and the ferocity of defensive end Myles Garrett was on full display even though he could never officially sack the quarterback.
All Browns players, however, have appeared to buy into the physical philosophies of Kitchens, who believes the Browns accomplished their No. 1 goal of training camp: Molding the plethora of new Browns talent into a team capable of meeting the high expectations the team set this season.
“(We’re) holding each other accountable maybe a little bit more than we did before, which are all things that are a necessity moving through an NFL season and into a week-by-week basis,” Kitchens said. “We have to raise our norm up a level. It can’t stay where it’s been.”
Kitchens emphasized on the first day of training camp that he’s coaching the Browns for a Super Bowl. It’s a long path to February, but training camp showed Kitchens that the Browns are headed in the right direction.
And hopefully that trend continues when the Browns open their regular season in 18 days for their real first test.
“Cultures don’t just happen,” Kitchens said. “Cultures happen by continuing to stack chips on top of each other and then having success with it, and when you have success with it, it’s easier to stack those chips.
“The proof is in the pudding. I think we’ve got a good start.”