The stands filled up before the players finished trickling onto the field. The cheers started shortly thereafter and only grew louder.
Seemingly every player that got within earshot of the stands Friday at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus heard their name bellowed from fans who have been waiting literal years for this moment. Spliced in between were the first official "Here we go Brownies!" chants of 2021.
Yes, it was a good day in Berea, the Browns' first practice in front of fans since 2019. It was different, of course, because of the ongoing COVID protocols, but it was oh so much better than any practice from last season, all of which were held without a single fan in attendance.
"It's fun. I know the players will enjoy it. They enjoy being applauded," Stefanski said. "I'm excited to see it, first time for me. I've been part of training camps where you have the fans in there, and I can just tell you the 'ooh's' and the 'ah's,' the players feed off it."
Here's what else happened at Friday's practice.
— The Browns, who still aren't wearing pads in adherence to the NFL's ramp-up protocols, picked up the pace a bit and went through a couple of live 11-on-11 periods. The ball was flying down the field on a number of occasions, and a couple of unheralded Browns wide receivers were the ones corralling them. Alexander Hollins caught a couple of long passes — including one where Baker Mayfield rolled to his left and found Hollins racing toward the right sidelines — and JaMarcus Bradley was on the receiving end of another. Third-round rookie Anthony Schwartz also showed off his speed and made some nice plays.
Hollins joined the Browns late in the 2020 season after spending the bulk of his first two NFL seasons with the Vikings. Bradley was an undrafted free agent who stuck with the Browns all last season, the majority of which on the practice squad.
— The defense got its first turnover of training camp early in practice when LB Elijah Lee found himself at the right place at the right time and grabbed a deflected pass. As expected, the defense very much let the offense know how much they enjoyed the play with leaping chest bumps and plenty of cheers.
— Odell Beckham Jr. was among a handful of players back on the field after a scheduled day of rest Thursday. Though he didn't participate in full-team drills, Beckham once again looked like a player who is trending in the right direction after tearing his ACL midway through the 2020 season.
He's certainly caught the attention of EVP of Football Operations and GM Andrew Berry, who called him a "freak of nature."
"You hear a lot of, 'Hey, this guy looks great coming off of an injury.'" Berry said. "It really is amazing the amount of work that he put in and where he is today. That is a huge credit to really his focus and dedication over the offseason."
— Sixth-round rookie Demetric Felton continued to show off his versatility as both a RB and a WR. Stefanski said the team considers Felton's primary position to be running back — the spot he occupied in his final season at UCLA — but highly values him as a "legitimate position flex" that can create mismatches.
"He has proven really since he got drafted just how smart he is because that is a really hard thing to do for any player, let alone a first-year player learning a new system," Stefanski said. "It is a credit to him. We are looking forward to seeing how he progresses throughout camp."
— RB D'Ernest Johnson was back on the field after missing the first two days of practice for personal reasons. WR Rashard Higgins returned in a limited capacity after sitting out Thursday's practice with an ankle injury. CB Troy Hill and S Richard LeCounte were both back after missing Thursday with an illness.
— WR Derrick Willies was placed on the reserve/retired list.
— The Browns will be back in action Saturday for their fourth practice in four days. It's another one open to the fans and will precede the players' first day off Sunday.