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'You can tell football is right around the corner': Browns thrive off fan energy at Orange & Brown Practice

Kevin Stefanski grabbed the microphone at the 50-yard line of FirstEnergy Stadium and looked around at the crowd of approximately 25,000 fans around him.

The Browns were only midway through pre-practice stretches of their 10th practice of training camp, but the stadium was already at one of its loudest points of the afternoon. "Here we go Brownies" chants and dog barks filled the air as soon as players took the field, and when Stefanski, the reigning NFL Coach of the Year, took the mic, it felt as though the roars around the stadium would never stop.

"Yo, Browns fans, how we doing?" he said as he raised his hand. "It is great to have you back in our house. It's great to see all the families and all the kids out here. We're going to get to work here in a second.

"You probably don't want to hear from me. You can talk to No. 6 in a second."

Then, Stefanski passed the mic over to Baker Mayfield, and the stadium erupted again.

"Like Coach said, it is great to see everyone here," he said. "I don't know anybody else in the country who would have this many fans here for a practice."

Check out photos from the Orange and Brown practice at FirstEnergy Stadium

The energy never settled throughout the two-hour padded practice. Cheers and barks echoed around the stadium for every completion or whenever any Browns player jogged close to the walls encircling the field. Rashard Higgins did his red carpet celebration. David Njoku did his Chief Slam. KhaDarel Hodge strummed his air guitar.

The Browns could've done anything, and the fans would've all gone wild.

"It felt really good just to have them here and have a fully packed stadium," Mayfield said after the practice. "Any time you get a fully packed stadium, the energy level goes up."

The Browns have statistical data to prove it.

Stefanski said the Browns have GPS tracking technology that shows how quick players perform throughout practice. The data is mainly used, of course, to measure areas of improvement for players and monitor how much energy is exerted every practice, and when the Browns have allowed a few thousand fans into seven practices at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus in Berea, they've noticed an increase in average speed.

He's expecting to see another jump, perhaps the biggest spike of training camp so far, after Sunday's practice.

"It's amazing when you are in the stadium or the lights are on for a night practice," Stefanski said. "You have fans and all of a sudden guys are running faster, they are running longer, the intensity picks up. Not surprised by that and again. Just kudos to our fans for coming out."

The Browns didn't take any minute for granted in front of their fans, and the environment felt even more special after COVID-19 limited attendance in every game last season. Friday's practice held the largest crowd the Browns have had at FirstEnergy Stadium since their final regular season game in 2019, so after a year of small crowds and seeing rows of orange empty seats in some of the biggest games of last season, it's clear the Browns are eager to welcome fans back into a full stadium.

In 42 days, Cleveland will host its first regular season home game of the 2021 season against the Houston Texans. It will be the first time the stadium will be filled to full capacity for a regular season game in 21 months.

The Browns can't wait. They know the fanbase can't, either.

"We're going to have a lot more people for these regular season games," Mayfield said. "You can tell football is right around the corner."

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