The decision to depart Cincinnati for an AFC North rival was admittedly bittersweet for Kevin Zeitler, who joined the Browns this past spring after five seasons with the Bengals.
"Any time that you're drafted by a team, you think that you are going to be there your whole career," Zeitler said last week. "I had some great memories in Cincinnati, some great teammates and a lot of good times, but when times like these come up, you have got to make the right decision for you and your family."
That's why Zeitler, who started 71 of 72 games at right guard, trekked north toward Northeast Ohio to join forces with Browns second-year coach Hue Jackson, the former Bengals offensive coordinator whom he worked with for much of his time there.
"Coming to Cleveland with Hue," Zeitler said, "everything was just perfect timing."
The 27-year-old is one of several new faces in Berea following a busy offseason for the Browns. Over the past few months, they've re-signed or extended key players like Jamie Collins Sr., left guard Joel Bitonio and linebacker Christian Kirksey. They've added veterans in wide receiver Kenny Britt and defensive back Jason McCourty. On Thursday, they traded for safety and former first-round pick Calvin Pryor. And last but not least, they've curated a promising 2017 draft class that includes three first-round picks Myles Garrett (No. 1 overall), Jabrill Peppers and David Njoku.
As the Browns continue OTAs, Jackson vowed last week to put the Browns' run game back on track. And Zeitler, widely considered one of the league's best guards, should play a key role in accomplishing that mission.
"It starts up front. If we are going to make this big jump on our football team, it is going to be on both sides of the line. That is where you win first," Jackson said. "Obviously, we have got to have better quarterback play and better all-around team play, but you win with big people. You win with your defensive front and your offensive line, and those guys control the game."
That's why the Browns fortified their offensive line this past spring with Zeitler and former Packers center JC Tretter, who started seven games last season before a knee injury.
"I think any O -ineman enjoys running the ball, but saying it is one thing. When it is time to play the game, if we have to pass it all game, we will," Zeitler said. "If we get to run it all game, that is awesome. We'll be ready for whatever we need to do."
In any case, Zeitler is poised to create new memories in Cleveland, reunited with Jackson and a young team looking to pick itself up after a difficult 2016 season.
"I've been having a blast since I have been here," Zeitler said. "The Haslams have treated us great, the facility is top notch and we're working hard right now. It's a really exciting time out here."