Columnist Todd Porter notes that thousands of fans cheer on a day that holds nothing but hope.
Skies above the Browns training complex started to break. A mostly cloudy afternoon on the first day of training camp turned partly sunny.
At 3:48 p.m., roughly 15 minutes after his teammates took the field, tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. jogged through the doors that lead from the locker room to the fields.
These are the fields that will determine the fate of the Cleveland Browns. These same fields determined the fate of the last year’s team when free-agent offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley fought the air, and the air won. The air in Berea has a better winning percentage than Head Coach Romeo Crennel.
Bentley tore up his knee during last season’s training camp.
But this year, the sun lit up the Browns’ brightest star.
And hey, it was no small wonder. Winslow started Friday on the physically unable to perform list, then participated in the first practice, which was more of a glorified team meeting.
Cleveland, which has won 14 games during the last three years combined, is among the NFL leaders in training camp attendance. At least 2,000 people were on hand during a work day to cheer their team, winners all of four times a year ago.
Winslow jogged onto the field to a standing ovation. It was a sign that optimism reigns supreme across every NFL camp on the first day.
Or it’s a sign these Browns fans thirst that much for something to cheer.
Mercurial receiver Braylon Edwards caught a pass.
Another loud roar.
Yes, this is the desert of ovations. When a receiver catches a pass and doesn’t pull up limp, it’s like finding a pond in the Mojave.
While the Cleveland Indians re-aquired Kenny Lofton on Friday, the Browns made a bigger splash. What did they get?
Of course, Bentley didn’t blow out the patellar tendon in his knee on the first day of last year’s training camp. He did it on the first day of contact.
By the way, that’s today.
But for teams like the Browns, the first day of camp usually is the best day of the season. It only gets worse from here.
“No,” Crennel said, “the draft was the best day of the football season in terms of optimism.”
But he was serious, too.
“There was a lot of optimism following the draft,” Crennel said. “You know, in the offseason, everybody looks good in shorts. It’s always optimistic before training camp, because you know you got your guys back ... and you’re ready to do some football work.”
Near the end of the practice, Cleveland’s offense worked on protection breakdowns. You know, the staple of the playbook a year ago.
Optimistically speaking, quarterbacks Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson found an open receiver every time the fake protection broke down.
Again, this was against air.
There was genuine optimism, too. Cleveland’s No. 3 overall pick, Joe Thomas, the 315-pound blind-side protector of a nameless quarterback, signed his contract at about 1 a.m. Friday. He was on the field.
Cleveland’s second-round pick, cornerback Eric Wright, signed his contract and ... missed practice.
Let’s get this straight. Wright signed for a reported $1.5 million guaranteed, and he was late for work his first day? Crennel said Wright had transportation issues getting to Cleveland from the West Coast.
He’ll try to knock away a few Frye passes today during the first two-a-day. Frye, though, seemed pretty peppy for a guy fighting for his starting job.
With all the optimism Friday, it was almost not noticeable that Brady Quinn, the team’s other first-round pick and the guy Crennel referred to as only “the quarterback,” remained unsigned.
Why the bright outlook from Frye?
“The first day of training camp is like Christmas for us,” Frye said. “We’re undefeated right now.”
Not that anybody noticed Friday.
Reach Canton Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org