BEREA, Ohio — The Browns have plenty of new faces on the roster this season, from rookies making their NFL debut in orange and brown, to veteran players who have ended up in Cleveland via trade or free agency signing. Over the past few years there's been a push to create a good team chemistry and culture in the organization and in 2022, amid all of the roster changes, those efforts continue.
Building bonds isn't something that happens overnight, but the first stepping stone is making sure the guys who aren't new are all on the same page. Consistency is something that safety John Johnson III believes will help foster the chemistry on the defensive front.
“Towards the end of last year we were really rolling. It was kind of natural. At the beginning of the year we were kind of thinking a lot, trying to get adjusted but even now it just feels natural. We don’t even have to say anything to each other, we just look and that’s the definition of a good defense, a good secondary from what I’ve learned,” Johnson said.
Johnson doesn't necessarily work a lot with the offense, but since coming to Cleveland last season from the Rams he created some friendships in the quarterback room. With Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum out and Deshaun Watson, Jacoby Brissett, Josh Dobbs and Josh Rosen now in, Johnson is ready to get to know the guys gearing up to be under center after seeing the fickleness of the NFL in full swing this offseason.
"I think that’s just the name of the league and the nature of the business we’re in. If I’m not producing, they’re going to do their best to find somebody who is going to produce. So, whether it’s a quarterback or receiver or running back, offensive lineman, that’s just the nature of the game, the nature of our business and you know it’s a business move,” Johnson said. "I love all those guys that we had here before. I’ll get to love all the guys we have here now, but that’s just the nature of the business."
The way last season ended, there was some frustration and disjointedness in the locker room. While there aren't hard feelings or grudges to hold from last year and the team is looking forward, players are still happy that things have taken a turn this off-season.
"The vibe is way better. I don’t know if it’s just me, but everyone feels that same vibe," Johnson said. "We got a lot of guys back, that continuity is huge, especially on defense, so it’s fun and we’re enjoying it and we can’t wait to get out on the field.”
Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah agreed although he couldn't put his finger on what is driving the change.
"The vibe is different, there's more of a swag, I don't know what it is," Owusu-Koramoah said.
From trips to the Bahamas and Miami to catching up with each other as they arrived in Berea for OTAs, minicamp and now training camp, the Browns have been getting to know each other well. For new Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper, those efforts already have had a clear impact.
"At the end of the day, I saw an opportunity to come to a new place and start all over again and do my thing," Cooper said. “We’ve been real professional about building that camaraderie, as you guys have witnessed. Deshaun took us all to the Bahamas and it actually did more than I thought it would do. Guys were loose and just building real relationships with each other. We all got to know each other a little better out there. That was cool."
Getting guys to gel isn't always an easy task. There are a wealth of personalities across the roster and, like in life, there's a good chance not everyone in a setting is going to get along at all times. But building a good foundation is something the Browns aim to continue doing. Successfully doing that is something head coach Kevin Stefanski said is a feat that has to happen naturally for the most part but is something they focus on as an organization.
"I think a lot of it is organic, and it's so much easier when you're standing next to somebody. In our locker room, if you remember, we had the plastic up and it was every two lockers were empty. Now, everybody's next to each other. We're walking out to the practice field together. They can ride over together if they want to. They can go break bread together. I think so much of that happens organically," Stefanski said. "When you get back together – for instance when we got back together in April or we got back together a few days ago – you always do spend time to find out what everybody's been up to and share with each other—guys that are having babies, guys who are getting married and all of those type of things.”
Sharing the offseason stories, from Wyatt Teller expecting his first child with his wife Carly or David Njoku celebrating the inauguration of his Chieftaincy in Nigeria, will certainly help bring the players together and create lasting friendships and connections. But at the end of the day, there's one thing that will solidify the bonds within the roster and the organization—winning.
The Browns certainly have the roster in place to win, but it will take a little more than talented players who get along to have the kind of season they want. It's going to take work, and that's something the players are ready to do.
"This is not any of our first rodeos. None of us out here this is our first year playing football. We all understand what it is," Cooper said. "We welcome the hard work. We understand that to accomplish what we want to accomplish throughout the course of season, there's going to have to be hard work and so we welcome that. We actually want to work harder than everybody because we understand hard work really does pay off.
Camryn Justice is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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