BEREA — Rob Chudzinski joked, chatted and taught Thursday as the Browns finished the offseason program with a final minicamp practice.
The beginning of one of the few lulls of the NFL calendar could’ve been the reason for the good mood. More likely is Chudzinski’s comfort with his team.
The first-year coach likes what he’s seen and can’t wait to reconvene for training camp in late-July.
“I’m really pleased with the progress that we have made,” Chudzinski said. “Them getting to know us, understanding not only the system but what we are expecting from them as members of the Cleveland Browns — how we practice, how we prepare and what we want from a culture standpoint.
“We are on the right track. We have a lot of work to do. We still have a long ways to go. There will be bumps in the road as we know, but we will continue along and stay on course.”
The Browns began the offseason program April 1, and the players were introduced to Chudzinski’s way of coaching, along with the systems of offensive coordinator Norv Turner and defensive coordinator Ray Horton. After 10 weeks and 16 official practices, Chudzinski has a handle on his team.
“What I know now is that these guys want to win,” he said. “They are hungry, they are willing to work and they are willing to do the things that we need them to do to put them in the best position to win.
“I love the attitude in the locker room. I think the guys have bought in and really are on the same page with what we want.”
The rookies will stick around for much of June, but the veterans are free until training camp. Quarterback Brandon Weeden left for Oklahoma as he arrived — a firm No. 1 on the depth chart.
Weeden took every first-team repetition during the practices open to the media and did nothing to hurt his standing. He improved his footwork, got rid of the pat of the ball before he releases and threw well.
“I just feel like it’s always been Brandon’s job and he’s always done the right things as a quarterback and he’s taken his position to another level as far as being very outspoken and just being a leader, being the first guy in the building and being the last guy out,” receiver Greg Little said. “And I think he commands respect now.”
Chudzinski didn’t get sucked in by reporters’ questions and stuck to his stance of not naming a starter more than three months before the regular-season opener.
“We are where we are right now,” he said. “There is a lot of time between now and when we are playing, whether it’s the preseason or our opener. All these guys are going to get plenty of opportunities. There are a lot of reps and a lot of practices between now and then.”
But he noted the depth chart is clearly defined with Weeden on top, Jason Campbell second and Brian Hoyer third.
“Brandon has done a nice job to this point,” Chudzinski said. “Everything we have asked him to do, it certainly hasn’t been perfect, but learning and being able to apply it on the field, to be able to listen to Norv hollering at him and be able to make those adjustments and corrections. You see progress.
“I think all of you have probably seen it out here, not only from a technical standpoint in what he is doing — getting the ball out quicker, he has speeded up his delivery — but also from a mental standpoint. His understanding and comfort level you can see it out there when he is operating.”
Weeden has come a long way in grasping Turner’s system — he said there’s nothing the same from last season’s playbook and vocabulary — and has made strides throughout the spring.
“I’m right where I wanted to be,” he said. “Overall I think my progress was pretty good. We had 16 practices, and each practice got better for myself and not only for me, but the offense, the flow, how fast we were playing.
“I’m pleased with it. Am I satisfied? Absolutely not.”
Weeden said his goal is to complete 70 percent of his passes after 57.4 percent in 2012. He started the first 15 games as a rookie and expects to continue taking the first-team reps.
“Yeah, I don’t want that to change or else that would be tough,” he said. “I’m still competing, competing every day and competing with myself. So I’m worried about me.
“I’m in the huddle with the same guys all the time, so the communication level there is good. I haven’t changed the way I approached it from Day 1. We’re on Day 16 now and it hasn’t changed.”
On offense, the first question is always about the quarterbacks. On defense, it involves the secondary.
Buster Skrine and Chris Owens are competing for the starting cornerback spot opposite Joe Haden, but appear better-suited to play in the slot. The ideal scenario would be third-round pick Leon McFadden seizing the job, but he’s worked strictly with the second team.
Free safety could also be considered a question mark, but the organization seems to believe in Tashaun Gipson, an undrafted rookie last year. The backup is Johnson Bademosi, another undrafted rookie from 2012, who’s making the switch from cornerback.
Chudzinski said the entire roster will be evaluated to see if it can be upgraded before camp, but he feels much better about the secondary than he did April 1.
“You’ve really seen a lot of improvement out of that group,” he said. “You see Gipson stepping up, two guys in Buster and Chris Owens that are working that other corner position. You see a good group there and I really like the way those guys are working together.”
The uncertainty surrounding the FBI investigation of owner Jimmy Haslam and Pilot Flying J hangs over the entire organization. But those in the huddle are focused on the opportunities on the field.
“I think we have the potential to be really, really good,” Weeden said. “Now it’s going out, continuing to get better, coming back and not really missing a beat.”
Chudzinski has yet to see his team hit and is eager for the pads to come out of the lockers and onto the field in camp. He sent the veterans into vacation with a message.
“That we want to stay on the course that we are on right now,” he said. “We want to come back and guys need to make gains. Think about the things that they want to do and get done and come back hungry when we start training camp.
“That’s something I’m excited about already, to see our fans out here on the field and be out here for training camp with them, hooting and hollering. I am excited about that.”