The Cleveland Browns open training camp Thursday with high hopes and hype surrounding the upcoming season. The team that went 0-16 in 2017 is now considered to be a playoff contender.
Fans snatched up the tickets for all 15 training camp practices in less than two hours earlier this month.
"I doubt anywhere in the history of sports has a 7-8-1 team generated so much excitement going into the following year as this one," WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto said.
A lot of that excitement centers on the quarterback. Training camp is usually when the Browns start a competition for the starting job. Last year, it went to Tyrod Taylor. Rookie Baker Mayfield took over when Taylor got injured a couple games into the season. He then led the team to its turnaround. Taylor is now a backup for the Los Angeles Chargers.
"Last season when Mayfield took over, the ball went down the field. When the Browns were dismal, not only were they bad, they couldn't get in the end zone. Then it became entertaining," Pluto said.
In March, the team added superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in a blockbuster trade with the New York Giants.
"He's missed 16 of the last 32 games with significant injury, but if he stays healthy, he's Pro Bowl caliber," he said.
Pluto also said the team has a star in running back Nick Chubb. "He was in the same draft as Baker Mayfield. This guy has Pro Bowl ability. He's a big-time player."
Pluto said he's written his prediction for the season "in pencil": 9-7.
"I wrote about it, and people are upset. I'm like, 'Folks, you were like 4-44 from like 2015, '16 and '17. You're 7-8. And you're upset about 9-7?' The exuberance here is that you don't want it to be so over the top that people get disappointed by what should be a pretty good football team," he said.
Coming from different places
Pluto said the team is likely feeling some pressure.
"They're coming from so many different places. Not only the players but the coaches," he said. "At this point last year, I doubt anybody but hardcore Browns fans knew Freddie Kitchens' name. Now he's the head coach. A year ago he was the running backs coach. And the offensive coordinator Todd Monken addmitted that the coaches themselves have to get to know each other to work together. Then you have all the players coming from all the different teams also. So it could be a little rocky at first."
However the season unfolds, Pluto said this training camp has a much different feel.
"This engine has some real octane. You look at the early schedule, and they play Monday night games in New York and San Francisco. I think they've got four primetime games, and they could get more," he said.