Browns camp – excuse me, #BrownsCamp – is finally here, which is fantastic news to everyone, including sunscreen manufacturers. We lathered up with the ole sunblock before heading out to the practice fields in Berea for the first practice for the brown and orange, and it was a dandy.
Here are our five observations from a gorgeous first day of camp.
1. The Mayfield-to-Beckham connection is alive and well
The first progression from individual drills to group work to team (11-on-11) activity left those in attendance a tad sleepy on Thursday morning -- that is, until No. 13 made his first highlight grab.
The crowd roared, waking at once at the sight of Cleveland's newest superstar doing what he does best.
Mayfield went right back to Beckham on the very next play, and it produced an even more incredible reception. Browns camp was off and running.
“That’s a good catch. It’s a security blanket," Mayfield said afterward. "Being able to throw it in places where not a lot of receivers can go get it. It’s unique, and it’s good.”
It's good, and it's a well Mayfield clearly likes to return to in order to quench his thirst for completions. The two linked up at least a half-dozen times during team activities and Mayfield also missed Beckham a few times. Their work on timing will continue with each day of camp, but when it clicks, whew. Watch out.
2. Fan excitement is real
We're still one more practice from players putting on the pads and reaching a legitimate level of football practice. Right now, it's spirited touch football with some soft collisions mixed in.
That didn't deter the fans hungry to see something, anything brown and orange. Every training camp ticket (which is free) has been claimed for every open practice, and of the 4,000 claimed for Thursday's opener, 65 percent showed up. A simple explainer: That's a good attendance rate for a free event.
Those fans arrived early and largely stuck through the end of a practice that went more than two hours. Head coach Freddie Kitchens isn't concerned with practice length, but is with getting things right. They didn't waste time doing so Thursday, and fans stayed to see it all.
They even cheered when the Browns simply trotted over to Field 3 for stretching. For the first time in months, their desire for Browns football was being fulfilled, even in a non-padded, less-than-complete form.
Myles Garrett mentioned afterward how difficult it is to really get a feel for how well someone is playing without pads.
"You can't get physical with a guy without his pads on," Garrett explained. ... "Once you put those pads on, put those pants on, it's a different world."
That didn't seem to matter to fans, though, as they stood and watched with anticipation each receiver drill, each 7-on-7 pass attempt and each 11-on-11 snap. They were happy to let out chants of "here we go Brownies, here we go," and one fan stood after a completion and shouted from the deepest part of his diaphragm "DAWG CHECK!"
It didn't matter all that much to Beckham and Jarvis Landry, either, as the two were still working on processing the reality that they are once again teammates.
"So (Landry) came into the huddle and looks over to me, taps me and is like 'is it real for you yet?' And I'm like 'I still can't process it right now,'" Beckham recalled Thursday. "And we go out there and we start making catches and I'm seeing him run around and him making catches and he comes back and he's like 'it's gotta be real for you now' and I'm like 'I can feel it.'
"I laugh because I feel like a little kid because of how much excitement I have to be back with this guy who changed my life forever. He's truly inspired me to be who I am, be the man that I am. This is one of the best men that I know in my entire life. So just to be able to be reunited with him feels great."
Reality won't fully set in for everyone until Week 1 of the regular season. But with each practice, each snap and whistle, it becomes a little more real for everyone involved -- especially those who were able to attend Thursday.
3. The defensive front four is going to cause some problems
The pads aren't on, and as Garrett admitted, that will keep some guys from performing at their fullest. But that doesn't mean things can't be accomplished or provide a preview of what's to come.
On Thursday, that preview was the potential of the defensive line.
We know about the individual ability of each player, but seeing them -- Garrett, Olivier Vernon, Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi -- in action together was something else. They frequently pressured Mayfield and batted down a few of his passes, with Garrett dropping an interception and falling to the grass in disgust. Mayfield admitted afterward that Garrett should have caught it.
This is what makes the Saturday and onward practices that much more exciting. We'll get a legitimate look at this front four -- which could potentially include free agent veteran defensive tackle Mike Daniels, who was in Berea for a visit Thursday. And we'll also get to see who comes out of the snap-by-snap test as the best prospect on the offensive side, at right guard.
4. Jamie Gillan is worthy of his nickname
He has flowing brown hair and looks more like a rugby player than a football player. He's a punter, his name is Jamie Gillian and his nickname is the Scottish Hammer.
We heard the stories about him popping footballs during his draft training and his freakish pro day workout, but we didn't get to see much of his kicking leg in action during OTAs and minicamp, partially because of inclement weather. With the sun shining and ideal temperatures (75 is best and cannot be disputed), Gillan let it rip during an early special teams period. His kicks were marvelous because of their distance, hang time and sheer majesty. They painted an arc through the sky that resembled a rainbow that hung over the team facility during a rainy Monday morning earlier this week. When they came down, it was fair to expect to hear a loud impact.
All of this is to say Gillan will push veteran Britton Colquitt, who is incredibly precise, if not as powerful, as Gillan. He also has plenty of NFL experience, including as a placekick holder, which is something Gillan still has to work on. But it'll be fun to watch Gillan wield his powerful boot and send footballs flying through the Berea air.
5. Growing pains are present, but that's typical
For all the excitement and highlight plays, there were plenty of reminders that this was July 25.
"It was truly a first day and you could probably tell that," Kitchens said. "I thought the defense was just like the offense, they were hit or miss. ... But it was a first day."
Players jumped offsides. Others started falsely. Passes were dropped (especially early in individual work). Blocks were missed.
These things happen, which is why camp is as long and thorough as it is. That also could mean some longer practices, which might not be a huge winner with players but is necessary for success. Thursday exceeded two hours and included a mid-practice meeting to correct a few team-wide issues.
"We're going to go until we get it right, so however long that is," Kitchens said when asked about the length of practice.
If Browns fans want to be encouraged by anything in this bullet, it's this: Kitchens and his staff will not cut a single corner during this camp. They simply cannot afford to.
On the flip side, these practices will be spirited. Thursday was, even without pads. Rookie linebacker Sione Takitaki went a little too hard after Duke Johnson when the latter caught a pass in the flats, hitting his facemask on Johnson's. The veteran didn't like that and had some choice words for the rookie before he had to be restrained by a teammate.
That intensity should be expected throughout this camp. These are no longer the afterthought Browns. Camp is when winners are made, and with two very strong units on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, no victory will come easily, nor will it come without a healthy amount of trash talk.
Physical is the name of the 2019 camp. As NFL Network's Steve Smith (who was in Berea Thursday) once said, ice up, son.