Training camp is here and the full-team practices can't get here soon enough. By then, we'll have plenty of answers to all of the loose ends surrounding the 2020 Browns.
For now, we simply have some questions.
Over the next few weeks, we'll be discussing those queries and analyzing the variables that accompany them. We've narrowed our list to 10, but there are certainly many more that will need to be answered by the time Cleveland opens the season against the Ravens in Baltimore.
We're continuing today with a look at the big picture.
"Normal" went out the window months ago.
Even before the Browns signed the first of numerous free agents they added to the roster in March, the world had changed in dramatic fashion because of a COVID-19 pandemic that has shown no signs of slowing down in the U.S. as July turns to August. Kevin Stefanski was on the job for a little more than two months before everything changed. It was less than that for Executive VP of Football Operations/General Manager Andrew Berry.
The first-time head coach has been tasked with navigating a truly unprecedented situation that is simultaneously affecting all of the Browns' competition in the exact same ways. The first-time general manager has been tasked with adapting to a wide variety of new roster rules, some of which were instituted before the pandemic, while preparing for a season that promises to play out in unique fashion.
There's no manual for it, and there won't be one as the Browns and the rest of the NFL prepare to navigate training camp and the regular season while dealing with all of the hurdles COVID-19 will present along the way.
"The work that has gone into this," Stefanski said Thursday, "has been nothing short of a miracle."
And it's only just begun.
The changes that awaited Cleveland's players this week were nothing short of immense. Basically everything they've done in the past will be different in some way, all the way down to the elimination of huddles during walk-throughs. Most players have yet to be allowed in the building as they await the results of the required three COVID-19 tests over a four-day span.
Check out photos of the rookies and quarterbacks working out Thursday
Training Camp is the time when a football team comes together. Practices continue during the season, of course, but they don't carry the same intensity as the ones that get the players prepared for the season. There's also the hours of meeting time, the long days and nights, the time spent in the team hotel. It's an experience unique to football that has stood the test of time.
Some of those norms will continue. The practices that begin Aug. 14 will look a lot like the practices we've grown accustomed to during this part of the calendar. The days will be long and the meetings will be thorough. They'll just be virtual for the first part of camp and whenever possible after that.
The players, to this point, have been lauded for their willingness to adapt and thrive amid the circumstances. They'll have to continue to do so during the crunch-time part of the offseason because the games in September are going to be just as unforgiving as they were in the past.
"We will be efficient," Stefanski said. "I think we have a really strong plan in terms of how we are going to ramp it up. Obviously, the NFL gave us a very strict guideline on how to do that, but even within those guidelines, I think we have a really strong plan and are making sure that we safely acclimate the players and then continue to teach these systems.
"I go back to our offseason program, I was really impressed with the amount of work we were able to get done back in the spring so that is something where I feel like we have built a foundation. Now, we get to build upon that foundation here in training camp."
The Browns and NFL are serious about preventing any possible spread of COVID-19. That much is clear. And it's been made clear to the players their actions outside of the practice facility will have a direct effect on the entire team.
That was the message Stefanski hammered home during his first team meeting. It's among the numerous, new variables the Browns will have to tackle as they prepare for this one-of-a-kind 2020 season.
"It is hard to win in this league," Stefanski said. "As we all know, it is hard to win, and we are going to do everything in our power to not make it harder. If we take care of business in the building and outside of the building, seemingly, that should give you an advantage."
Browns players arrived at the facility Tuesday morning for the start of camp