BEREA: At one point during the Browns’ first practice of training camp, Rob Chudzinski took a break, walked to the sideline and urged a rowdy section to turn up the volume.
“I love it loud,” he said.
When the session ended, the 45-year-old Browns rookie coach left the field pumping his fist, then slapped hands and high-fived several fans as he headed to the news conference tent. Excitement consumed Chudzinski, a Toledo native and die-hard Browns fan who has confessed to eating a dog biscuit or two during his younger days.
It was the most demonstrative I’ve ever seen a Browns coach, dating back to 1981.
“It was awesome. Looking out and seeing some of those young faces with their Browns jerseys on and knowing how much that meant to me and I’m sure how much it means to them,” Chudzinski said. “Hearing the dog barks, that’s the kind of excitement we want to generate. Our fans deserve it and we plan on giving it to them.”
Before he was hired by the Browns as tight ends coach in 2004, Chudzinksi said his only trip to Browns training camp came when he was a teenager during the 1980s. He went to Lakeland Community College, where more than 5,000 fans regularly flocked. Thursday’s crowd was not nearly that massive, with 2,692 drawn to the team’s Berea complex, which has a capacity of about 3,000.
Regular attendees might have picked up on a new atmosphere, with no better evidence than Chudzinski’s enthusiasm.
Chudzinski and his coaching staff, which also includes offensive coordinator Norv Turner and defensive coordinator Ray Horton, are stressing accountability and attention to detail. They’re emphasizing looking ahead, not back at the Browns’ primarily dark days since 1999. Chudzinski is the team’s fourth coach in six years.
Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, taking over as the Browns’ elder statesman along with left tackle Joe Thomas after the free-agent departure of kicker Phil Dawson, is so impressed that he talked playoffs this season.
“There’s a lot of different tactics going on around the building just from a motivating standpoint and the way we talk,” Jackson said.
“We’re going to be as good as we allow ourselves to be. Chud has a goal; he’s holding everyone accountable. Every guy is doing small things, making goal sheets and what they want to be, how successful they want to be from a team standpoint. I think we’ve got a lot of smart coaches around us.
“I’m excited as I’ve ever been. I think this year is going to be special. It’s really going to come down to the young guys who have been here, they understand what Cleveland’s about, guys who made some mistakes, they’re growing up and they’re listening. Once you get everyone on the same page, you get a better outcome.”
Jackson was pressed on whether by special he meant playoffs, which seems a stretch for a team that since 1999 has reached the postseason only once.
“Yeah, why not? I’m not afraid to talk about it,” Jackson said. “We’ve got a good group of guys on both sides of the ball. We’ve still got to go out and play the game. But if we stay committed and stay on top of what we’re doing, I can really see a difference between this team and any other team I’ve played for since I’ve been here.”
Jackson wasn’t the only player who oozed optimism.
“That’s every team’s standard and I’m not going to shy away from it, either,” third-year receiver Greg Little said when told of Jackson’s comments.
Guard John Greco said he’s seen a change since offseason workouts began April 1.
“Everyone’s focused and hungry,” he said. “There’s a great attitude. We’ve been around each other a few months and you can tell there’s something in the air. I hope it works out for us.”
The Browns have felt this way before on the first day of training camp. But not last year, when news broke that the team was for sale, leaving coach Pat Shurmur testy, knowing his job was in jeopardy.
This year, there could be a black cloud hovering with the federal investigation into fraudulent rebate practices at owner Jimmy Haslam’s Pilot Flying J truck stop chain. Haslam said Thursday he feels “very optimistic” about where that stands, and it hasn’t seemed to affect the football operation.
Haslam still signed free agents and sunk millions into renovations to the Berea headquarters. Asked what he thought of the changes to his daily workplace, Jackson said, “It looks like Google.”
“I’ve never been to Google, but I’m like, ‘This is some Google-type stuff,’ ” Jackson said.
The Browns used to rave about the way they were treated by now-minority owner Randy Lerner. But Lerner — a Browns fan, too — was spending his late father’s money on the wrong things and the wrong people.
Jackson doesn’t feel that way about what’s going on now.
“The best way I can describe what Chud and Mr. Haslam are doing is creating a winning environment,” Jackson said.
“Once you create that, we call it swag. You build that confidence and that swag going into a season. Once you get treated like winners, you’re going to win.”
Should that happen this season as Jackson predicts, Chudzinski might head straight to the Dawg Pound, searching for someone with a Milk-Bone to spare.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.