Fans, Chudzinski enjoy Family Fun Night
CLEVELAND – You’d never know the Browns are coming off a 5-11 season and haven’t had a winning record since 2007.
Fireworks might have been part of the attraction, but the lure of football back in town drew a crowd of 24,131 to First Energy Stadium Saturday for Family Fun Night. They watched a spirited practice with the players in full pads.
The biggest fan of the night might have been first-year coach Rob Chudzinski, who grew up in Toledo as a fan of the Browns. It was his first chance to step on the field in front of the fans as coach.
“It was great to be back in the stadium for me, personally,” Chudzinski said. “It’s been a little bit of a while. The energy was great and the fans were awesome. We had a great turnout. We’re going to need them down the road.”
The highlight of the night was a 50-yard touchdown run by the newest of the Browns – 5-year-old Ryan Encinas of Cuyahoga Falls. Encinas was diagnosed with a malignant tumor on a lung when he was 2. On Aug. 2, Ryan celebrated two years in remission.
At the suggestion of Chudzinski’s son, Kaelan, the Browns decided to let Encinas dress in full uniform and run the ball under the escort of the entire team for a touchdown. Kaelan got the idea after watching film of a similar celebration at the University of Nebraska.
“That was cool,” quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “When Chud told us we were going to do that in team meetings, I was pumped about it. The kid is 5 years old and he’s been through a lot. I do a lot of stuff back home with Children’s Hospital, so every time something like that happens, it brings a lump to your throat.”
As for the practice, there was an increase in tempo and a more physical nature compared to the Berea practices. Weeden was intercepted by Joe Haden, who continues to have a strong camp, but was generally effective. Weeden completed a touchdown pass to Davone Bess in the final 11-on-11 drills with the first units.
Weeden and Bess, acquired in a trade with the Miami Dolphins, are starting to develop chemistry.
“Going back with Davone, what a great pick up,” Chudzinski said. “I couldn’t be more pleased with what he’s done, both on and off the field. He’s able to get open it seems every play. I can’t be more pleased with him.”
Weeden agrees that Bess has been a positive addition.
“You know what you’re going to get with Bess,” Weeden said. “You’re going to get a good route runner and you’re going to get a guy who can catch the ball in third-down situations. We’ve got some guys, but Bess is a guy I’m going to rely on. He knows that. He’s a good player and every quarterback wants a guy like that.”
Weeden’s first chance to show how he’s adapting to the new offense will be Thursday when the Browns host the St. Louis Rams in preseason action. He feels he’s progressing well.
“It sounds weird, but I’m still making some mistakes, but I’m learning from those mistakes,” Weeden said. “It’s going to happen when you play against a good defense.
“Joe Haden is one of the best corners. He’s a great player and that makes me better. I feel like I’m moving in the right direction, my comprehension of the offense, my feel, my understanding of where to go with the football are getting there. I’ve got a long ways to go, but I’ve got to keep working and these guys are going to rely on me.”
The size and energy of the crowd opened the eyes of rookie linebacker Barkevious Mingo, who’s accustomed to loud crowds from his days at LSU.
“We had the first tier (nearly full), and it was still loud,” Mingo said. “I’m like, ‘This is going to be fun to play in.’ I’m really looking forward to it.”
Mingo flashed his advertised speed on pass rushes but still needs to add variety to his package of moves.
“He has the athleticism and speed,” Chudzinski said. “The experience of being a pass rusher will help, and continuing to work on his technique. He looked pretty quick coming off the edge.”
CAMPING OUT: Kickers Shayne Graham and Brandon Bogotay staged a competition, moving out close to 5 yards after each kick from opposite ends of the field. Bogotay, who has a stronger leg, was good on every kick out to 53 yards. Graham made every kick until a wide-left attempt from 53 yards. As expected, running back Trent Richardson didn’t practice. Richardson was kicked in the shin during a practice last Thursday. Others out were running back Montario Hardesty, receiver David Nelson, fullback Brad Smelley, fullback Brock Bolen and defensive back Trevin Wade. The attendance was an increase from last year’s total of 19,412 and the 2011 turnout of 12,354.