WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) — With the lush, green Allegheny Mountains providing a picturesque backdrop, the Cleveland Browns began preparing for an upcoming season they hope doesn’t go downhill.
Looking to avoid outside distractions and perhaps forge better chemistry among players, the team opened training camp Saturday at The Greenbrier Resort, a swanky vacation spot used by other NFL teams in the past.
Home, for the moment, is West Virginia’s country roads.
“We’re landlocked here,” coach Kevin Stefanski said after the team took a short flight from Ohio and held a one-hour practice under partly sunny skies. “We’re in the middle of nowhere by design, so it forces you to be around your teammates.”
The Browns, who have held camp in Berea, Ohio, since 1992, will spend eight days at the remote location, giving them ample time to ramp up for their Aug. 3 exhibition matchup against the New York Jets in the Hall of Fame game in Canton.
The first few days will be relatively light before the Browns practice in full pads for the first time on July 28.
Before then, this is a chance for Stefanski and his staff to work on anything that was overlooked during spring workouts and for Cleveland’s players to dig deeper into their playbooks while getting to know each other better.
“Just grind,” said wide receiver Amari Cooper. “Just an opportunity to get away and focus on football. Just training camp, you know, just like the old days.”
Well, not quite like the old days.
The Browns have brought many of the comforts of home with them to West Virginia, and whatever they couldn’t haul is being provided by the luxurious resort, which has 710 rooms and was once designated as a “bunker” for the U.S. Congress in case of war.
Following the first relaxed practice, which did include some conditioning sprints at the end, Browns players dined inside an air-conditioned tent on a gourmet buffet spread that included a stir fry station.
This is not your Dad’s NFL.
The Browns will have one off day next week, giving players some down time to relax or try one of the many available activities including golf, paddle boarding and white-water rafting. Or, they could choose to pamper themselves with “The Ultimate Greenbrier Pedicure” for $150.
“I might check some of them out,” top cornerback Denzel Ward said. “But I’ll probably just be playing football and sleeping the rest of the time.”
There is no price tag on camaraderie, and Stefanski is counting on the extended time together — the league gave the Browns and Jets an extra week of training camp — making his team even closer.
“It just made sense to try to get away,” he said. “This is a place that has housed teams before. Having coaches on our staff that have been here that really can speak to this place, and then how first class it is, that was really helpful in us in determining this was the spot that we wanted to come.”
As for the football part of it, the Browns have plenty of work to do.
Coming off a disappointing 7-10 season shaped by quarterback Deshaun Watson’s 11-game suspension, there are raised expectations in Cleveland. First off, Watson has his legal issues behind him and is healthy.
An underperforming defense has been overhauled with several additions to the line along with fiery coordinator Jim Schwartz. Watson’s got a speedy new target to throw to in wide receiver Elijah Moore, and Cleveland’s roster is dotted with other stars like edge rusher Myles Garrett and running back Nick Chubb.
The excuses have expired. Entering his sixth season, Ward said this is the best Browns team he’s played with.
“I definitely believe so,” he said. “But you can have a lot of talent but you just got to bring it together and bring all those pieces together. So that’s what we’re doing and focusing on to make it happen.”
NOTES: Cooper said he’s full go after undergoing off-season surgery on a core muscle. … Browns 69-year-old owner Jimmy Haslam ran some sprints on the field following practice. … WR Marquise Goodwin, who has been sidelined by blood clots in his lungs and legs, watched the workout. Stefanski said it’s still possible Goodwin can play this season. “It’s an unknown,” he said. “It’s very scary, so right away you worry about Marquise and just his health, period. So all of it remains to be seen from a health standpoint and when he’s ready to go, and in the meantime we’re just supporting him and he’s listening to doctors.”