The dark clouds, with an occasional speck of blue peeking through, hung ominously low in Berea, helped along by a constant breeze that soothed the heat and humidity.
Below, the lush emerald green grass welcomed the thinly dressed warriors of fall and winter. Football was in the air. The Browns' three-day minicamp for veterans and rookies commenced Monday under the watchful eyes of coach Romeo Crennel and his staff.
A season of hope is about to commence. Life is good.
The media lined one side of the field, eager to get a first look at the 2005 edition of the Browns. Notepads were in evidence and television and newspaper cameramen jockeyed for the best position as the players, in shorts and game jerseys, stretched and ran a couple of sprints.
For some reason, it looked better organized than last year's minicamp. There seemed to be more precision. More crispness to the 90-minute workout. The players, offense in white jerseys, defense in brown, moved with a sense of purpose.
Perhaps they wanted to impress the new coach. Then again, maybe they enjoyed being on a football field again.
Initial observations noted that running back William Green looked a lot quicker than last season. New offensive linemen Cosey Coleman and L.J. Shelton are very large men. Carl Crennel II, the team's new offensive quality control coach, is a body double for his Uncle Romeo.
Observing eyes scanned the field as the players scattered to pre-assigned places for their respective positions to work on drills, checking for who was missing.
Hey, where's Braylon Edwards? The Browns' top pick in the draft noticeably absent. Contract problem? Injury? A check with the PR department unlocked the mystery.
Edwards' uncle died over the weekend and the wake was Monday. He'll be back in time for Tuesday's session.
Kellen Winslow Jr. took in the festivities, walking carefully with a big brace on his torn ACL that will be repaired today. A silent reminder of what could have been in 2005.
An off-and-on mist began to fall about halfway through the session. Cooled things off a bit. Players had to appreciate that. Coaches most likely didn't.
The seven-on-seven drills between offensive skill players and the linebackers and secondary on defense produced some nice plays, most notably Matt Stewart's interception of a deflected pass and Michael Lehan's textbook perfect coverage on a long pass.
Later, as he faced the media horde, Crennel said his intent in this minicamp was to "pick up the tempo as far as installation (of schemes and the playbook) goes. I think we can find out who can handle the added information and stress. There was a lot of teaching going on out there."
Green, competing with Lee Suggs and Reuben Droughns in the ultra-competitive running back race, drew high praise from his coach. "He's been here every day," said Crennel. "I mean every day. . . . I think he'll be in the mix."
Crennel revealed he and Green discussed his previous non-football problems here. "We had a talk," said the coach, who declined to elaborate. "I'm not at liberty to discuss that. I told him he had to be responsible . . . be a good player . . . a good citizen."
Regarding who will start, Crennel said, "We have three good players and we're going to use them. We're going to find a role for them."
Crennel was also frank when departed offensive tackle Ross Verba became the subject. "He had a history off the field," he said. "I wasn't too crazy about that to be honest with you. The best thing for the team was to move him out."
Earlier in the day, Crennel wore his latest Super Bowl ring to practice and showed it to his men. He had received it Sunday night at the home of Robert Kraft, where the New England Patriots owner rewarded his Super Bowl XV champions.
"I knew the guys would be interested in seeing it," he said. "Rings are nice because is signifies a sense of accomplishment. They have a new challenge now."
A long-time employee in the club's food services department, a woman named Jackie, told Crennel she would retire if the Browns could win one of those rings. "I told her I hope she retires soon," said the coach.
In the locker room, the media descended on a number of players. Center Jeff Faine drew plenty of attention as he fights for a starting job. Said he weighs 290 pounds now after finishing last season at 285. Noted that the biggest change from last year was less waste of time in practice.
Quarterback Trent Dilfer, asked if he wears his Super Bowl ring from the 2000 season, silently responded in the negative. "Why not?" he was asked. "I'm not a Raven," he said.
Suggs, a soft-spoken young man, was another media favorite, patiently answering a myriad of questions concerning his battle with Green and Droughns. If confidence – and three 100-yard games to end last season – are an indication of who will win that battle, count on No. 44 opening the season at running back.
It sure was good to see footballs flying again around Berea. The sting and anguish of the 2004 season have all but disappeared. Good riddance.
After Wednesday's session, the Browns begin their hibernation until training camp launches late next month. That's when we'll all get a better idea of what 2005 has in store.
From all indications, a new attitude and approach to the game seem to be taking hold. And one gets the impressiont that Crennel will not put up with any nonsense. And the players seem to know this.
Nothing wrong with that. It's about time.