Browns players and coaches agreed to cut practice to one hour Thursday and spend the remainder of practice time holding a discussion indoors about how they could make positive change on social justice issues in Northeast Ohio.
The decision came after several professional sports teams and leagues postponed games and practices to conduct similar conversations following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, by police officers. Coach Kevin Stefanski said he let the players make the decision and was fully supportive of whatever option they chose.
"I just felt it was important to let the players come together and have a voice," he said. "I am in the moment, and what this moment calls for is dialogue and unity. I think we are getting that in a bunch of ways from this football team. That is what I really appreciate about the guys we have."
Here's what stood out from Thursday's abbreviated practice:
1. Offense continues to find identity
Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said Monday the Browns were still working to find their offensive identity as the Browns implement a new playbook from Stefanski.
"Through training camp and the installation, we are still trying to figure out who we really are," Van Pelt said. "We did not have that time in spring. As we get through these next three or four days of practice, now, as an offensive group, I think we are starting to understand what we have, what we do well and how we can exploit defenses."
After the 10th team practice of training camp, however, quarterback Baker Mayfield believes the Browns are honing in on doing just that.
His chemistry with top receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Austin Hooper has appeared to steadily grow. Rookie receivers Harrison Bryant and Donovan Peoples-Jones have looked strong, too, and although not every play has gone to plan — which is expected during every training camp — Mayfield believes the number of smooth reps has increased each practice.
"The more plays we run in this camp to see what the identity is, we're starting to see what's working for us," he said in an interview on Browns Live: Training Camp after Thursday's practice. "I'm starting to feel way more comfortable. It's been great to go through installs for the first time and put everything under our belt for the first time. We're really starting to make progress, which needs to happen. We know the sense of urgency is at an all-time high."
One of the biggest components of that "identity," so far, has been Mayfield's consistent connection with tight ends, which is what the Browns were hoping to see after bolstering the tight end room with Hooper and Bryant. If training camp stats were being taken, the duo would be at the top of the receiving leaderboard in receptions, and Mayfield has appeared to show a midseason level of comfort in relying on his tight ends for first-down pickups and more.
"It all comes back to communication and being on the same page," Mayfield said. "There's such a feel that needs to happen for tight ends to make that next step, and we have guys that have that instinct and feel."
Check out photos from the tenth day of Browns Camp
2. Injured players return
The Browns have undergone an unlucky string of injuries so far in training camp, but they welcomed back five players to Thursday's practice: TE David Njoku, CB Terrance Mitchell, WR Damion Ratley, LB Tae Davis and DE Chad Thomas.
Mitchell, who had strung together a series of strong practices but hadn't practiced since Monday, should provide the secondary with a needed boost after injuries to S Grant Delpit (Achilles) and CB Greedy Williams (shoulder). Ratley, meanwhile, was active in practice for the first time since Day 1.
3. Here and there
Top highlights in Thursday's practice included an interception from Sione Takitaki following a batted ball from DT Eli Ankou. Peoples-Jones also continued his strong rookie training camp by catching a deep pass from Case Keenum for six (figurative) points.
LB Adrian Clayborn (groin), CB Kevin Johnson (liver), CB M.J. Stewart Jr. (hamstring), C JC Tretter (knee), CB Greedy Williams (shoulder) and LB Mack Wilson (knee) did not practice.