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Browns 'starting back at square one,' putting in the work amid high 2021 expectations

Myles Garrett, Jarvis Landry and the Browns' other top veteran leaders have started a training camp like this before.

The external expectations for 2021 as the Browns return to Berea couldn't be much higher: Cleveland is frequently listed among the favorites to make the Super Bowl, and its roster is regarded as one of the most talented in the NFL. The Browns are stocked with Pro Bowlers, promising young players and other established talent who believe plenty of wins are ahead of them.

Sound familiar? The Browns remember when those expectations flooded through the facility at the start of training camp in 2019.

That season ended with a 6-10 record and plenty of disappointment. Lessons were learned, mistakes were corrected and evidence was sprinkled all throughout last season, when the Browns improved to 11-5 and won a playoff game, that many big errors were behind them.

Those results — and the constant sense of urgency from coach Kevin Stefanski to always improve — are why the Browns are confident they can cope with the lofty goals that have been placed to them in 2021.

"Every year stands on its own merits," Stefanski said before the Browns' first training camp practice Wednesday. "Just because you did it last year doesn't mean you can do it this year. We're starting back at square one."

Check out photos from the first day of Browns Camp

Garrett, meanwhile, was honest in his reflection between the expectations from 2019 compared to today: "There is no difference."

And he's right. The Browns aren't afraid to speak about their big goals, but every player knows the success won't come without the grind.

That started in the first team practice of training camp Wednesday, when the Browns held their first full team drills since minicamp. Music blared in the background as players ran drills at full speed to test chemistry, timing and reads.

"On paper, we look great," Garrett said. "But we've got to go out here and put the work in. We have to grind. We have to make sure the chemistry is there for when we match up with the Chiefs that first week. Everyone wants to go into the season winning every game they play, but what you do from training camp 'til the last game of the season is what defines you."

On the defense, training camp will be all about meshing new players together. The additions of S John Johnson III, CBs Troy Hill and Greg Newsome II, LB Anthony Walker and DEs Jadeveon Clowney and Takkarist McKinley bring plenty of optimism for improvement for a defense that ranked 21st in the league a year ago. Time is needed, however, for the group to mesh.

The unit leads a strong leader, and Garrett knows he's that guy.

"I've got to pick the time and place when guys need a voice in their ear to keep going or go a bit harder," he said.

The offense, meanwhile, won't contain as many introductions with new players. All 11 primary starters from last season have returned, and their training camp messages have been geared toward covering every corner to improve from last season, when they had the 14th-best overall offense and third-best rushing attack in the league.

"Just keep understanding who we are, our identity and how we are trying to get better," Landry said. "Obviously, it starts here in training camp. We took an evaluation of how we did last year. Whether it was penalties or whether it was turnovers, those are things that we can try to eliminate and take those numbers down a little bit, and it gives us a better chance to win some of the games that we may not have."

The offseason so far has provided several opportunities for the Browns to voice their expectations and how they hope to accomplish them. Those messages were voiced again by Browns leaders before their first practice of the season.

Now, the wait is over. It's time for the Browns to prove it in jerseys, helmets and (occasionally) pads. Five weeks of practice in the sun and long hours in meeting rooms are ahead, and the cloud of high expectations will be above them for all of it.

"Our guys are up for the challenge," Stefanski said. "The guys understand this is a long season, and part of that long season is putting in some really good work early."

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