BEREA, Ohio -- Nearly 4,000 passionate fans welcomed the Cleveland Browns to the field for, and supported them throughout their first practice of training camp at the team's Berea headquarters on Saturday morning.
And those who worked through the 80-plus-degree heat appreciated the support.
"It was just great to walk out the door and feel the energy," Browns coach Mike Pettine said. "I've said it all along that we have the best fans in the league. They're passionate. They're loyal. They love football. They're knowledgeable, and that was evident today."
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam added, "It's amazing. I've said all along these are tremendous fans that we need to put a better team on the field for and I think we did. Today was a really exciting day, and I think we've got the same kind of crowd coming tomorrow. I understand we've got 25,000, 30,000 people coming to Akron next Saturday. It's really exciting for our coaches and players."
Pettine described Saturday's practice as a "solid first day," one in which he "was very proud of the effort, very proud of the energy," and that was music to Haslam's ears, as the Browns are looking to break a six-year double-digit losing streak.
"It's all about getting better," Haslam said of training camp. "I'll be honest, if we were 12-4 last year, it would still be all about getting better. Hopefully, we'll play better football this year. I think (general manager) Ray (Farmer) and Pet and Bill Kuharich did a nice job in the offseason, first of all with free agency, then, the draft. We probably need another year or two like that to have really the kind of roster we need. In my terminology, we're directionally correct."
Saturday's practice was the first exposure to practicing in front of fans for all of the Browns' rookies, including quarterback Johnny Manziel, who was loudly supported by those in attendance, especially those wearing his Browns and Texas A&M jerseys.
"It's definitely different for me, having practices open to the fans and stuff, but they're cheering throughout the entirety of the day, and I really did enjoy it," Manziel said. "I think it's great for our fans to get a chance to see up close and personal that we're working extremely hard to try and change things around here. We're trying to be successful, and hopefully, we continue to bring this buzz and bring this excitement to the city.
"Personally, I've had an incredible fan base that's followed me. They've really come out of the wood works here in Cleveland for me. It's truly incredible, and I'm truly thankful to have those guys, but more than anything, it's not just my number, my name on the back. It's Cleveland. It's the Browns. It's awesome to have the fan base that we have for this team, not just me. It's a great turnout today, and I'm sure that won't stop anytime soon."
Browns rookie running back Terrance West, along with his former Towson University teammates, offensive lineman Randall Harris and tight end James Oboh, was taken aback by how many people attended practice, and appreciated every bit of the support.
"It's amazing," West said. "We came out here and we see all the fans. We're like, 'Wow. Man, we've really made it. We came a long way.' (With) all these fans, it's like playing in a game at Towson. I love it. I like the crowds.
"I love the fans. They love me. We'll have some fun this year. They see something in me, and I know I've got something in me. They're excited, and I'm excited too."
The Browns were scheduled to work out for more than two hours, but practice wrapped up early, which Pettine said was a product of quality repetitions during the drills.
"We script a certain amount of plays within the time periods, and when we're not repeating them, and the tempo is good, and we're getting in and out of the huddle, that'll trim some of the time off," Pettine said.
"We also like to save a little bit of the time for the coaches to work with their guys extra after practice, guys that need a little bit extra help. On the first day, we're not necessarily looking to maximize the time."
MESSAGE TO TEAM
Prior to the start of training camp, Pettine addressed the team and reminded the players that the next month of practices will be "just a continuation of the spring."
"We're building a foundation," Pettine said. "We don't want it to be a foundation that we can look good in a practice or two or a preseason game or two, or maybe a game or two in the regular season. We want to build it the right way, and build it here that we can have long-term, sustained success.
"I think it's a good group. We talk about the 'Play like a Brown' attributes, and I think Ray and the personnel department really took that to heart in putting this roster together, that we maybe moved on from some guys that potentially still play in the NFL and just didn't feel they were a good fit for us.
"The more guys that you can get that are passionate, that are competitive, that are tough, the better off you're going to be. That's how we want to build a team, and that's why I'm happy with where the roster is right now."