Enjoy watching half-speed football practices in the heat? Well, luckily for you, Browns training camp is fast approaching. There’s now less than one month until you can get your exhibition football fix.
The Browns announced their training camp schedule last week. Camp, which runs from July 25 to August 13, will feature 14 practices open to the public at the team’s Berea facility, as well as the annual Family Night at FirstEnergy Stadium on the evening of August 3. As always, admission to all sessions is free.
In a savvy move, the open practices this year will be in the afternoon, from 4 to 6:30 PM. Last year, morning practices were open to fans, while the afternoon walkthroughs were closed. Attendance at Browns camp was certainly not an issue last season, but one has to think that practices will be even more crowded with the new schedule. As someone who interned with the team during last year’s camp, I just wish they had made the switch earlier. Starting work at 6:45 AM was never ideal for a college kid home for the summer.
What will all of those fans actually be watching though? While it is surely important, not many would label training camp entertaining.
It won’t be completely boring though. The Browns, like just about every other NFL team, have important issues to resolve before the regular season begins. Fans will get the opportunity to watch a number of these questions be answered at camp.
Pilot Flailing J
It is the question in the forefront of everyone’s mind. What did Jimmy Haslam know? Will the rebate fraud that brought the FBI and IRS to his company’s Nashville headquarters be his downfall? More importantly, for Browns fans at least, will he still be the team’s owner when the smoke clears?
Browns fans welcomed Haslam as a ray of hope when he purchased the team from the detached Randy Lerner. He was our savior, the man with the sweet Tennessee twang who would return our once proud franchise to the mountaintop. Now he finds himself embroiled in a federal investigation. How could he have gone from knight in shining armor and orange ties to accused leader of a widespread program of fraud in so short a time?
For now, at least, the team is following standard operating procedures. The investigation has not caused any undue distraction while the team went through minicamp and organized team activities. However, these types of things can be slow moving and dark clouds may be on the horizon.
Five Pilot Flying J employees have already pled guilty to charges of fraud. We’ve all seen enough movies to know that rarely bodes well for the higher ups in an organization. Today, it was reported that an investment group headed by Jimmy Haslam and his brother Bill, the governor of Tennessee, has sold the Tennessee Smokies, the AA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs which the group has owned for ten years. Jimmy Haslam did his best to quell concerns over the sale, saying that is was “absolutely not” related to the ongoing investigation. He went on to say, “It does have something to do with Cleveland in that we’re obviously going to be spending more time there.” It was meant to be reassuring, but for Cleveland, skepticism is the default attitude when these situations arise.
For now, all Browns fans can do is hold their collective breath and hope the fraud scheme was the work of rogue managers and that executives were blissfully unaware of its existence. Who knows whether that is the truth, but one Forbes columnist has already written that the last sands may be falling through the hourglass for Haslam’s ownership in Cleveland.
Return of the Chud
Famed Derek Anderson whisperer Rob Chudzinski is back in Cleveland, but this time he sits in the head coach’s office. The 2007 Browns offense, which he coordinated, was surely the most explosive attack the team has had in the expansion era. Now he must recapture the magic with an entirely different roster.
Chudzinski has surrounded himself with other coaching talent. Norv Turner will lead the implementation of Chud’s attacking system, which will trade the dink-and-dunk game of Pat Shurmur’s West Coast Offense for downfield throws and power running. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton brings a similarly aggressive style to that side of the ball as he leads the transition to the 3-4 base defense. Chudzinski’s ability to lend his veritable offensive insights (he was hired away from the Carolina Panthers, where he served as offensive coordinator for a unit that had been pretty successful in the last two seasons with Cam Newton at quarterback) while also balancing his time and doing his head coach’s duty of keeping tabs on the defense and special teams units will be integral to the team’s success.
Most important, however, will be Chudzinski’s swift adaption to the game day responsibilities of being a head coach. With this being his debut as the headman, he is not experienced in the intricacies of clock management and in-game decision-making. While it would be hard for Chudzinski to acquit himself worse than his predecessor in those facets, his development as an in-game coach will be an interesting storyline to watch once the season begins.
Browns Behaving Badly
While a former Patriots tight end was being arrested and arraigned on charges of first-degree murder this week, a Browns player was facing a similar charge in New Jersey. Ausar Walcott, an undrafted free agent linebacker signed by the Browns out of Virginia and since released, turned himself into Passaic (NJ) police on Tuesday to face a charge of attempted murder stemming from an incident at a northern New Jersey gentleman’s club. Walcott is charged with punching a man in the head around 3 AM Sunday morning just after the club closed. The man remains in critical condition.
While I agree with the many who have distanced the Browns from this incident due to Walcott’s short stint with the team, it is part of a worrisome pattern of Browns players finding themselves in hot water, either legal or otherwise. There was Quentin Groves’s arrest for soliciting a prostitute. Seventh-round pick Armonty Bryant, who the Browns took a risk on in spite of a history of legal trouble in college, was pulled over and charged with DUI shortly after he was drafted. Josh Gordon is suspended for the first two games for his (second) violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Gordon, along with Greg Little and Phil Taylor, tweeted celebrating the Miami Heat’s NBA Finals victory, earning the wrath of many fans. Gordon and Little took it a step further and posted Instagram photos of themselves celebrating with (actually, it was more like near) LeBron James and other Heat players in a Miami club.
The eradication of these types of immature missteps was ostensibly part of the reason the franchise brought legend Jim Brown back on board, but thus far fans haven’t seen any evidence to indicate that Brown’s mentorship is getting through. Gordon’s transgressions are especially troubling. Here is a player with all the talent in the world who just can’t seem to stay out of his own way.
In a sports-crazed town such as Cleveland, the vultures are always circling, waiting for the slightest mistake to attack on Twitter and the sports talk radio shows. Hopefully, the organization can get its handsomely paid employees in line so that, come September 8, the Cleveland fans’ court of common gripes can focus its considerable volume and vitriol on happenings on the field.