Darren Fells is one of the biggest tight ends in the NFL, but he was contesting shots and grabbing rebounds just six years ago. From 2008 to 2012, Fells played basketball in five different countries.
But he made the transition to football after not playing the sport since high school. Now, he's a leader in the Browns tight end room.
"As a professional athlete, he has done the international competition, which is difficult – you are away for months at a time," tight ends coach Greg Seamon said. "There is a maturity. Just his experience as an athlete, his professionalism. I think that all of those things are great examples for the guys that we have in the room."
Fells' brother, Daniel, played in the NFL, so the transition was easy for him. Even though Fells was a late bloomer to professional football, he has made up for it in the film studies and on the practice field.
"He has studied hard to learn how to play the game, even entering into it at a late stage," Seamon said. "He is very accomplished. It is a little different for an ex-basketball player to be known as a blocker, but he has built that career for himself and he is good at it."
Fells just needed a fresh start and a little more contact in his life. He loved basketball, and he enjoyed playing, but the grind of a non-contact sport became monotonous to him. So he asked his brother about a possible football return. His brother put him in contact with the right people, and the rest is history. Fells signed a three-year contract with the Browns, his fourth team, in March.
"New environments are always a fun experience," Fells said. "Trying to learn the new players and learning a new offense and everything like that. It has been awesome, a pleasant surprise. We have a city who has been yearning for a winner for a long time and such a new group coming in. Just trying to learn each other's habits here and there. It has been fun just seeing the development."
— Terrance Mitchell and Browns general manager John Dorsey have a history. Dorsey signed Mitchell to the Chiefs in 2016 and again to the Browns this offseason. When asked if Dorsey went to bat for him in free agency, Mitchell replied: "Possibly so." Mitchell is making the most of his latest opportunity. He's earning first-team reps at cornerback for the Browns.
"I am just doing my job," he said. "Go in and try to do it to the best of my ability."
— Mitchell and T.J. Carrie are both candidates for the starting corner spot opposite rookie first-round pick Denzel Ward. Carrie noted Mitchell's energy and enthusiasm in practice, and Mitchell claimed the same of Carrie.
It's not always Carrie, though. "Money Mitch," as his teammates call him, takes it day by day on who will supply the energy in practice; some days it's Carrie, some days it's other corners, some days it's coaches.
"Everybody's energy feeds off of everybody," Mitchell said. "Whoever you feed off of, it helps you out. Yesterday, I fed off of (defensive backs) coach (DeWayne) Walker's energy. Whoever has the energy gets it going."
— The Browns linebacking room features four starters and three starting spots. Newcomer Mychal Kendricks has shown throughout training camp that he can make plays when given the chance, even though he sat out the first few days of camp.
"I think the first day that he was out there just so happen to be the first day we were in pads," linebackers coach Blake Williams said. "The first series we were out there, the siren goes off (indicating full contact is allowed) and he made a couple of plays, tackles either running 30 yards across the field like a flash and making a tackle or downhill immediately on the next play for a TFL. All of his teammates are going 'whoa, whoa.' That is always kind of good to see."
Although stacked, the linebackers might be in a better situation than last year when Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert played every snap. Kendricks' addition could allow for breaks.
— Head coach Hue Jackson has been coping with the recent deaths of his brother, who died unexpectedly, and his mother, who fought a long illness before dying at 83.
"He's a tough-minded individual. It's been a really unusual and tragic two weeks," Seamon said. "We all support him."