Three years of lost Sundays and life without pro football is finally over _ the Browns are back in pads and back in town.
Thousands of fans were expected to be in the stands at 8:40 a.m. sharp today when the new Browns open preseason training camp for the first time since the summer of 1995.
The group of about 35 players _ rookies and a few selected veterans _ were ready for their first morning workout under Cleveland coach Chris Palmer. The rest of the team's players will have their first formal workout on Sunday.
While the team has had four minicamps, those were padless sessions with little contact. But now touch football is over and there will be a new sense of urgency on the field.
Of the 90 players who will strap on orange helmets Sunday, nearly half will be cut before Cleveland's regular season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 12.
"I don't know if I'm ready for it but I'm going to work hard every day and hopefully be a part of it," said Tarek Saleh, a three-year veteran who was taken from Carolina in the expansion draft and is hoping to win a spot either as a linebacker, fullback or special teams player.
For players, Wednesday was a quiet day but not for workers at the Browns headquarters in this Cleveland suburb, where training camp is being held. They were scurrying around making final preparations for the Browns first practice.
The Browns will be giving free tickets to football-hungry Cleveland fans who want to sit in the stands at Berea and watch practice. The bleachers can hold up to 4,500 people and it's a pretty safe bet that finding a spot won't be easy, at least not in the first few days of practice.
Browns coach Chris Palmer said the early days of training camp, which runs through Aug. 23, will be about learning who can hit and who can't.
"Chris Spielman doesn't have to show us what he has in pads," Palmer said. But rookie linebacker Rahim Abdullah "has to step up and show us that he can hit with the big boys."
It might also help to learn quickly.
From the time the Browns practice together for the first time in camp, they will have just two weeks to prepare for their Aug. 9 debut against the Dallas Cowboys in the Hall of Fame game at Canton.