Edwards has first practice
BEREA — Browns star wide receiver Braylon Edwards finished his first practice, slapped on a baseball cap for his interview session and then returned to the field in search of Cleveland coach Eric Mangini.
Edwards found Mangini, who was finishing up signing autographs for fans, and the two chatted briefly as they walked off together — in step.
The Browns can only hope they stay that way.
Edwards, the talented playmaker whose dropped passes were among the problems that doomed Cleveland last season, practiced Wednesday after missing the first four days of training camp with an undisclosed injury. Cleared by the Browns’ medical staff on Tuesday night, Edwards, who had been limited to mostly riding a stationary bike, rejoined his teammates and looked sharp during the two-hour workout.
‘‘It’s one thing to watch on the side and another thing to actually go through and participate,’’ an upbeat Edwards said. ‘‘It felt good.’’
It didn’t take long for Edwards to shine. During a 7-on-7 drill, the 6-foot-3 wideout soared high in the air to catch a touchdown pass from quarterback Derek Anderson, who lobbed the ball into the back corner hoping Edwards could haul it in. Perfectly timing his leap, Edwards went up and pulled the ball off cornerback Gerard Lawson’s helmet.
‘‘I love football, so being able to go out there and do that reminds me of why I’m here, why I originally started playing football,’’ Edwards said.
The play was a reminder of Edwards’ remarkable skills as well as his untapped potential.
‘‘If all else fails, throw it to Braylon,’’ Browns backup quarterback Brett Ratliff said. ‘‘He’ll make something happen.’’
Edwards, who missed Cleveland’s minicamp last month with an injury, was typically chatty and in good spirits after practice. He addressed several issues, notably his relationship with Mangini, Cleveland’s first-year coach, and his contract.
Although the Browns had placed him on the ‘‘active non-football injury list,’’ Edwards didn’t appear to be injured while doing agility drills and running during the practices he missed. The mysterious circumstances surrounding his injury — Mangini gave no specifics — led to speculation that he was being punished for arriving one day late to camp.
But Edwards said Mangini was not penalizing him by keeping him out of pads.
‘‘It was the complete opposite,’’ he said. ‘‘I respect coach Mangini, because through this whole system he’s been by me, he’s supported me. He and I have talked. Anything that I want to talk about or I feel, I can easily go up those steps and the door’s open for me. I never felt that way (being punished).
‘‘In fact, I thought he was taking care of me in a sense. He didn’t want me to come out here until I felt I was right, until the trainers felt I was right, so I wouldn’t come out here and reinjure whatever. So I really like this guy and I’m really happy to play for him right now.’’
A happy, healthy Edwards is a huge plus for the Browns, who went 4-12 last season and are not expected to be much better in 2009. But a bounce back season by Edwards, whose production dropped from 80 catches, nearly 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2007 to 55 receptions for 873 yards and three TDs last year, could get Cleveland headed back to respectability.
For that to happen, the 26-year-old needs to become more consistent on the field and avoid distractions off it. Last year in training camp, he suffered a severe cut on his heel when he was accidentally stepped on in practice. He struggled early in the season and wound up leading the league with 16 drops.
Edwards also seemed more interested in pursuing a future acting career and complained that he couldn’t get a fair shake with Cleveland fans or the media.
Mangini isn’t concerned with Edwards’ past.
‘‘The thing that I ask all the players is that they focus on today, doing all the things today the right way,’’ Mangini said. ‘‘Braylon is no different than anybody else in that group. He has done the things I’ve asked him to do.’’
Edwards, who is in the final year of his contract, insists his financial future will have no bearing on his effort this season. The former first-round pick understands the implications of turning his career — and the Browns — around, and plans to make the most of it.
‘‘I just want to play football,’’ he said. ‘‘All I care about right now is winning games and getting out of the shadow and getting everybody’s mindset off of last year. In this business, you’re only as good as your last game and your last season. Everybody’s hard on us right now, because of what we did last year. We come out, we win some games, we go to the playoffs, everybody will have forgotten last year. Everybody will stop the controversy.
‘‘So I don’t care about a contract right now. All I care about is playing football and winning games. I just have to have fun and everything else will take off.’’