CHICAGO — **As the Browns prepare to nearly trim their roster in half this weekend, there was a certain sentimentalism that accompanied a 25-0 win over the Bears on Thursday night at Solder Field.
While the victory gave Cleveland its first undefeated preseason in 31 years, it also marked the end of a seven-month journey that's watched a young team grow and bond with each other in the wake of a 1-15 season in 2016.
"I think we understand that this is the last time that group of players will be together and I told them that last night, and I told them that again today," second-year coach Hue Jackson said in his post-game news conference, "and they went out and played for each other and held each other accountable."
Now with an eye toward the season opener against the Steelers, the Browns must first cut their roster to 53 members by Saturday and, in the process, make a series of difficult choices when it comes to shaping the team for 2017.
Jackson believes it's an ultimately good problem to have, saying it's reflective of the improvements Cleveland — which added three first-round NFL Draft picks in April — made during a busy and promising offseason. "When we become the type of team that I think we all hope to become one day," he said, "we want those hard decisions at the end because that means you got some really good players on your team."
Since January, the Browns improved one of the league's youngest rosters by adding several players whom they expect to immediately contribute.
That list includes newcomers in rookies Myles Garrett (the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft), safety Jabrill Peppers (25th overall) and tight end David Njoku (29th overall) and veteran free agents like right guard Kevin Zeitler, center JC Tretter, wide receiver Kenny Britt and cornerback Jason McCourty.
"I think we've added a lot more talent. i think you can see our roster is going in a certain direction and we've been able to execute on a lot of opportunities," executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said Thursday.
"I do think while we want to build the right way so we have sustainable success, we are seeing kind of with our strategy that we're able to add a good amount of talent in a short amount of time."
Altogether, it made a for a spirited training camp that saw competition unfold at virtually every position. And now, the Browns will have to figure out who gives them the best chance to win this season.
"I think there's gonna be some tough decisions with our football team," Jackson said, "but they're decisions we have to make."