Kevin Stefanski wanted his players to rest up and re-energize over the bye week, and it appears those goals were fully met when the Browns returned Monday to CrossCountry Mortgage Campus in Berea.
Stefanski said the energy and focus in the Browns' first practice back from their bye week was where he had hoped. His guys were smiling, focused and ready to get back to work, and there's plenty of work to be done as the Browns prepare for another big battle against Baltimore next Sunday.
"I think they were all really engaged," Stefanski said. "They were moving around, flying around the practice field today. I feel like they recharged with their time away from here."
That kind of mood is what the Browns needed after having to go through 12 games before a weekend of rest. The Browns went 6-6 in that stretch and have needed to work through numerous injuries to stay in the playoff hunt, which got even tighter in the AFC North on Sunday after the first-place Ravens lost to the third-place Steelers.
All of the goals the Browns set at the beginning of the season were still in front of them when the bye week started, and the results Sunday — which included losses from the Bengals (7-5), Broncos (6-6) and Raiders (6-6) — pushed the reality of those goals a bit closer in Cleveland's direction.
But no one is feeling satisfied about what the Browns have done so far. They still need to possibly win all of their remaining games to have a shot of controlling their playoff destiny, and they believe they're in position to do just that after a few days dedicated solely to rest.
"That's what you want to focus on — just being consistent," LB Anthony Walker Jr. said. "Now we're just trying to hone in on the little details and finish strong. We'll see where everything falls after that."
Walker compared the reunion with teammates after just a few days away to seeing family after a long time away from home. He said he messaged S John Johnson III on Sunday asking when he was returning to Cleveland and said that he felt a similar vibe from the rest of his teammates when they checked in for work Monday.
That energy carried over to the practice fields, and the Browns are hoping it carries through the rest of the week into Sunday's rematch against the Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium.
"All the guys are just happy to be back in the building," Walker said. "You get so used to being around your teammates that when you're not around him, it's like you're missing something. You're missing part of your life.
"It's that sense of brotherhood, that sense of love, that you miss for a couple days."
Several players and coaches multi-tasked with film study and enjoyed watching the games Sunday by tuning into the Ravens-Steelers matchup. Pittsburgh won, 20-19, after a fourth-quarter rally and late stop on a Baltimore two-point conversion that would've given the Ravens the win. As a result, the Browns are now still just two games behind the Ravens for first in the division.
Walker, one of the most avid film reviewers on the defense, said it was hard for him to differentiate watching the game as merely a casual viewer compared to someone preparing to play the Ravens next week. But he didn't mind being able to take in some extra time to watch the same film he'll be reviewing the next six days.
"It was more so just looking for little tips," he said. "You try to pick on the TV copies and stuff like that and then, obviously, watch the overall game. That was my weekend."
The next five weekends, though, will be back to normal for the Browns. They won't be easy, either, as Cleveland prepares to close the season against five opponents that all have records at or better than .500. Four of those teams are all in the extremely tight AFC playoff chase, and three are in the AFC North, which is nowhere close to being decided.
The Browns, however, are ready for anyone after their bye week, and the liveliness from the fields Monday in Berea solidified that point even more.
"We have an opportunity here," Stefanski said. "The expectations for all of us are high, and that's where they should be."
Check out the best photos from the Browns game against the Ravens yesterday by the Browns photo team