Rain and a stiff Lake Erie breeze pelted First Energy Stadium, but cautious optimism filled the venue on Saturday afternoon.
The Cleveland Browns hosted their second annual Fan Fest at the stadium from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, drawing thousands of fans downtown Cleveland.
The event featured plenty of entertainment options, from games to autographs to interview sessions. The Browns also held day two of rookie minicamp on the field at 2:30 p.m., keeping a smattering a Browns fans from leaving the stadium.
The day began in force at noon, with one of the more interesting parts of the fan fest, the State of the Browns Address with Sashi Brown, executive vice president, football operations, and Andrew Berry, vice president, player personnel. The two answered questions from host and Browns broadcaster Nathan Zegura.
The session centered on the Browns' draft strategy. As analysts quickly surmised, Brown and Berry sought out productive, high-character athletes in the 2016 NFL Draft. Early in the session, Brown said, "We are going to be a team that builds through draft ... The way you build is by finding players who will be with your team not just four years through the rookie contract, but 8-10 years down the road."
Brown and Berry touched on third round quarterback Cody Kessler and tight end Seth DeValve, who Brown and Berry seem to adore. The duo spent nearly five minutes alone talking about DeVavle and his value to the team's offense. Wide receivers also pervaded the conversation, as fans cheered when Zegura mentioned how the Browns drafted a club-record four wideouts.
Brown also dropped an interesting tidbit about new defensive end Carl Nassib:
#Browns Sashi Brown said DE Carl Nassib can add 10-15 lbs. Can be "nightmare" inside with height (6-7), length. Motor as good as Joey Bosa's— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) May 14, 2016
Besides the franchise's 14 draft picks, the conversation slid to veteran players on the roster. Brown gushed about Robert Griffin III after a cushy setup by Zegura. Berry added, "His physical tools jump off the tape ... He definitely adds to the competition at quarterback." The team's new player personnel exec also spoke about the team's desire to upgrade athletically at linebacker, explaining the team's decision to sign Demario Davis and release Karlos Dansby.
The session ended humorously. Zegura mentioned that tomorrow is Brown's birthday. The team's broadcaster led a rendition of the Happy Birthday song, interspersed with dawg "woofs." Attending fans didn't chime in much, leaving poor Zegura to sing most of the song himself.
The 1986 AFC Central Division Championship Panel took place next on the opposite end of the stadium at 12:30, making it impossible to catch all of both sessions. I missed part of the session, but I thoroughly enjoyed the parts I saw. Earnest Byner, Hanford Dixon, Kevin Mack, and Felix Wright formed the four-man panel, with WEWS-TV's Andy Baskin serving as the host.
The four covered a host of topics, from the 1986 season to living in Cleveland. Dixon, Mack, and Wright all live in the Cleveland area now, and Byner said the love of the fans "keeps me coming back." The session was one of my favorite parts of the day.
The session ended with a fan question, the only one time allowed for. The fan asked Mack, the leader of the Browns' Alumni department, about a possible return for former quarterback Bernie Kosar. Mack responded, "Yes. I can't tell you when ... As you know, there's been a lot of regime changes and unfortunately communication has not been good. But I see light at the end of the tunnel. Bernie will be back."
Is a return approaching for Kosar? As Mack said, both sides want peace. It could only be a matter of time, as Mack hinted.
At 1:30, the Browns hosted a Gold Jacket Roundtable with Pro Football Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Joe DeLamielleure, and Paul Warfield. Unfortunately, I missed some of the session, but DeLamielleure did speak about his injuries sustained from football, particularly with CTE. Brown had harsh words for the league, stating the union doesn't "give a foot" about the old alumni.
However, Brown said of the current state of affairs, "I'm very happy with Browns organization."
Autograph sessions took place through it all, with most of the Browns' roster taking part in the fun. Joe Haden attracted perhaps the most adoring fans, as the line for his autograph spanned over three sections. Cameron Erving drew a smattering of fans, too, taking pictures casually with many young fans.
The next program advertised a Joel Bitonio cooking class with chef Rocco Whalen, but I eschewed the session for the start of the rookie minicamp practice.
Of the thousands in attendance, perhaps 300 or so stayed for the majority of the rookie minicamp. Sitting mostly under the overhangs to avoid the rain, fans watched as the rookies participated in position drills.
It's hard to conclude much from position drills, though Kessler's throws didn't stand out. The rain and wind definitely played a factor, though Kessler's arm didn't look particularly impressive. However, it is far too early for conclusions or analysis. At the same time, new wideout Corey Coleman did field several punts well.
At the end of the lengthy day, Browns fans went home happy, albeit cold and wet. Count the Browns' 2nd annual Fan Fest as a rousing success.
Hopefully fans will go home as happy after games this upcoming season.