Players reported to team headquarters in Berea today for the most highly anticipated Cleveland Browns training camp in recent memory.
And when the Browns take the field for their first practice at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, they will do so in front of what likely will be the largest crowd ever to gather for a training-camp workout at the facility.
Although Johnny Manziel's presence has plenty to do with the elevated level of attention the team has drawn locally and nationally, it is far from the only reason.
Throngs of fans and media, including many from national outlets, are also anxious to get their first glimpse of the Browns' new look and attitude under the direction of first-year coach Mike Pettine, who has preached a message of toughness and accountability since being hired as coach in January.
There is great anticipation over whether the Browns can, in fact, deliver on the expectation of fielding one of the top defenses in the NFL – a unit that figures to be enhanced by infusion of dynamic talent from free-agent inside linebacker Karlos Dansby and strong safety Donte Whitner, and by the guidance of Pettine, who was part of fierce pass-rushing defenses as coordinator for the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. It is a scheme that should give Paul Kruger, Barkevious Mingo, and Jabaal Sheard should more green lights than ever to get to the quarterback.
There is great anticipation over whether the Browns will, in fact, have a dramatically improved rushing attack, thanks to the additions of Ben Tate in free agency and third-round draft pick Terrance West, and an offensive line that should get a boost of toughness at guard from second-round choice Joel Bitonio.
There is great anticipation (mixed with anxiety) over how the wide-receiver situation will play out with the uncertain future of Josh Gordon. The time has come for Miles Austin, Nate Burleson, Anthony Armstrong, Andrew Hawkins, and others to show just how well they are able to pick up the considerable slack that Gordon's absence from the team during the season – however long that is – will create.
And, yes, there is great anticipation over the quarterback battle. Brian Hoyer enters camp as the starter, and Pettine has said he intends to decide who the No. 1 quarterback will be by the third preseason game. That doesn't give Manziel a whole lot of time to make his case, while experiencing all of the ups and downs that rookie quarterbacks encounter. But it should be an interesting competition nonetheless.
Get ready for plenty of noise and electricity when the gates open tomorrow morning.
ELSEWHERE AROUND THE NFL …
DALLAS COWBOYSquarterback Tony Romo says he is ready to have the best season of his career. "I feel personally like I've just started to come into the player that I wanted to be six, seven years ago," Romo was quoted as saying in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. "I think over the course of the next four or five years, you'll see the best version of me that I've had throughout my career. That's for a lot of different reasons, but I really believe that. I believe that will show as we go forward, so I'm excited about that."
DENVER BRONCOSquarterback Peyton Manning isn't happy that fans will not be able to watch the team practice in training camp because its facility is under construction. "As great as these facilities are going to be, the disappointing thing is that just due to the safety issues we couldn't have fans here, and I'm disappointed in it – it was not the same," Manning told ESPN after the Broncos' first practice on Thursday. "You need fans out here in training camp. The energy, you get into the padded practices, those third and fourth padded practices, just a little shout out from the fans … it makes a difference and I missed it."
NEW ORLEANS SAINTScoach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis insist there is no lingering awkwardness between them and tight end Jimmy Graham now that the team has started training camp. Before signing Graham to a $10-million-per-year contract, Payton and Loomis testified in an arbitration hearing against Graham's claim that he should be classified as a wide receiver for franchise-tag purposes. "Look, it was a tough negotiation, obviously, but it ended well," Loomis was quoted as saying on ESPN.com. "Obviously going to an appeal hearing over the position argument was unique. But otherwise it was a negotiation. You know, all of these negotiations are tough. Obviously when it's a high-profile guy, there's more written about it. And those are personal issues for the players, in particular, and we understand that. But that's behind us. We're glad to have it done. I'm sure Jimmy's glad to have it done." >>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET, for "Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford" on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com. We take your questions at 216-578-0850 and via Twitter @Browns_Daily.