Josh McCown, Joe Thomas and the rest of the offense walked into the building in late April for the beginning of OTAs and had no idea what to expect.
A season ago, former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan came to Cleveland with a league-wide known offensive system based on zone-running and play-action passing.
Now, John DeFilippo is in command of the play-calling on offense. Hired in January by coach Mike Pettine, the 37-year-old was lauded around the NFL for his deft tutelage of Oakland Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr. But no one had any idea what type of offense he would establish in Cleveland.
"When you're in the installation phase of an offense, to me, you're crawling," said Pettine, whose role has evolved into an overseer of the offense. "We're going to install a lot. We're going to throw a lot at our guys and see what we can retain. Then, sit back as coaches and look at, 'Here's what we do well,' and go ahead and highlight that."
After the eight different installation sessions, where up to 90 different plays were called from the huddle, the Browns have a much stronger sense of what the offense will look like in 2015.
The highlighted strengths from the naked eye in mini-camp showed a matchup passing attack, moving receivers, tight ends and running backs all over the field in different formations. As DeFilippo mentioned when he was hired, he has kept several running schemes from Shanahan's system that were effective in 2014. Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West and Duke Johnson are an eccentric and exciting running back trio. The offensive line has two surefire Pro Bowlers, Thomas and Alex Mack, and a left guard in Joel Bitonio who's arguably already on their level. This unit has fighters.
The Browns know their margin for error on offense in the AFC North is as thin as a piece of paper. Make mistakes against the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals defenses – and they'll make you pay. McCown and DeFilippo were not shy in admitting there were some discombobulated plays during some of the OTAs. But media members in attendance detected a surge by the offense in June against a stingy Cleveland defense that has players and coaches content with the progress headed into the five-week NFL vacation period.
"We're a new group and anytime you come together as a new group, there are going to be growing pains," McCown said. "For us, we understand, especially within this division and the offenses that it has and the quarterbacks on the other teams, that we've got to set the bar high early and hold ourselves to a high standard in order to speed up that learning curve. While there will be bumps in the road as we've learned, still the standard has to be high. That's where we are right now."
Getting back center Alex Mack for training camp promises to give the offense even more stability as it gets a firmer handle on the offense in late July and August.
"We're getting there," DeFilippo said. "I'm really excited. I'm hoping we get some continuity early in training camp so we even find that out even more, but we are getting there."