BEREA, OH - The second day of training camp has a much different tone that just one day prior. Getting back on the field and going through the motions is not what the doctor ordered for a team hungry, coming off an unexpected season of success last year.
In the Thursday morning session the team was in pads and kicked it up a notch. Positional drills, offense/defense line drills and 11-on-11 drills were in the offing. The physical nature of the lineman was quickly evident in blocking drills. Defenders were hitting, pushing the issue at the point of attack, as the back eight in the Cleveland defensive scheme appear to take it personal when a running back broke containment or a receiver caught a ball over the middle.
There was that little extra push in individual drills. A little additional talk and encouragement coming from those veterans who have been there and done that. Rather than the days of the past where the top-level talent was sparse and those players stood-out, today we see a roster of players, much competitive than I have viewed in years of covering this team. I think back to the day general manager Phil Savage discussed the plan of putting this team together. The process would be meticulous, methodical and would take time. The organization would take its lumps, but would become a team to be reckoned with in due time. Patience and continuity was the key. Today, Savage looks like he knew exactly what he was talking about.
Rather than focus on the play of individuals in these very early sessions, which provides little insight, observers need to get a sense of the general attitude and readiness. In some ways, the tells us more about the team, especially after only five hours of practice. While enjoyable to see the team on the field again in pads, there is always a "breaking-in" process. Usually after four days or six-to-seven sessions, players begin to hit their stride.
The first session of the day was crisp. Unlike camp settings of the past, there is a sense of urgency with a legitimate goal in reach. Coming off a season in which provided hope to an organization accustomed to taking it on the chin, the 2008 season has the potential to lift this team into the spot of a contender.
The second practice of the day was more reserved. Being the first two-a-day session on the calendar, this is to be expected.
Early in training camp it is often customary for the staff to allow the squad to build up steam. The early session on Thursday was spirited and physical. The offense was operating smoothly, the defense under the direction of new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was running to the ball, utilizing their athleticism and making a little extra effort when confronting a receiver or ball carrier.
Listening to players calling out signals, getting each unit set, to changing plays and recognizing what each unit offered up tells us far more than a receiver making a catch or a linebacker beating a tackle off the edge. It tells us the players have worked this off-season, that they understand what is at stake and have bought into the change on the defensive side of the ball, while digesting more diversity coming from the offensive playbook.
All I needed to hear was when I talked with numerous veteran players prior to and following the initial practice session of training camp and was told...... "I'm ready LA, we're ready to do our thing and we're excited to get back out here to finish what we started."
When you hear veterans speak like this, you know this team has something to prove, something to offer, and did not like the taste of missing out on an opportunity a season ago.