CLEVELAND — Football is officially back in Cleveland! Odell Beckham Jr. and Kareem Hunt made their unofficial FirstEnergy Stadium debuts Saturday as members of the Cleveland Browns.
A crowd of 37,686 — energized by quarterback Baker Mayfield — gave both offseason acquisitions numerous ovations during the Orange and Brown Scrimmage, a 2 1/2-hour intrasquad practice.
Former Giants wide receiver Beckham caught passes from Mayfield on the first two snaps of full-team action, while ex-Chiefs running back Hunt logged his initial on-field work after missing the first eight training camp sessions with a groin injury.
“You could feel the excitement from the fans out there,” said Mayfield, who encouraged chants of “O-B-J” by waving his arms. “It wasn’t even half-filled and the energy was unreal. People are excited to have football back. The excitement is justified, so now we have to go and make it right for them.”
Beckham and Hunt have fueled sky-high expectations for the Browns, who haven’t made the playoffs in 17 years. They went 7-8-1 last season as Mayfield set an NFL-rookie record with 27 touchdown passes.
Hunt was activated from the non-football injury list and took part in individual drills. The Northeast Ohio native is facing an eight-game league suspension for a domestic violence incident that prompted his release by Kansas City.
“For Kareem to be in the stadium for the first time in front of everybody, not that he actually played, but just to be out there, it will change your perspective on it,” Mayfield said. “I’m hoping he enjoyed that more than we did.”
Coach Freddie Kitchens didn’t rule out Hunt seeing limited action Thursday, when Cleveland hosts the Washington Redskins in its preseason opener, but said he would prefer to err on the side of caution with injured players.
“It was nice to see Kareem do that, but it’s a slow process and we want to be safe with them and careful with getting him back,” Kitchens said. “I was pleased that he came out and did some drills. It was very good.”
The first-year coach modified the format of the annual event by holding a typical camp practice in an NFL stadium, running two limited sequences of 11-on-11 action. The only players made available to the media were Mayfield and defensive end Myles Garrett.
General manager John Dorsey signed numerous autographs while wearing his trademark Browns sweatshirt on the 83 degree day, recently retired kicker Phil Dawson threw t-shirts into the stands, and Kitchens addressed the crowd before leaving the field.
“Yeah, there was adrenaline doing that,” Kitchens admitted. “I understand the passion these fans have and they demonstrate every opportunity they have to show it.”
Tickets for the scrimmage cost $5 per person and benefited the Cleveland Browns Foundation “Get 2 School” campaign which encourages school attendance. Additionally, all of the Browns’ net proceeds from sales at the training camp Pro Shop benefited the Foundation, matching the process for transactions at FirstEnergy Stadium’s Pro Shop.
The 2019 Orange & Brown Scrimmage comes just days before the team’s first pre-season game on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. against the Washington Redskins.