BEREA – Phil Dawson was never mistaken for a hippie – or Justin Bieber – in his first 12 years with the Browns, but he looked more clean-cut than ever Saturday. His head was shaved bald under his Browns cap.
Other than that, it was the same old No. 4. Only with a range of new emotions.
Standing in front of familiar faces in a familiar setting as he addressed the media following the first practice of training camp was almost an out-of-body experience for Dawson. His contract expired after the 2010 season.
“I thought I may never come back,” the kicker said. “So to get the news this offseason that I would be back and now to be here, it’s a surreal feeling.
“But it’s one I’m embracing and looking forward to. I’m ready to get after it.”
Surreal may be too strong to describe Saturday at Browns headquarters, but unusual works. The first practice – post-lockout style – had a little of everything and a different feeling than most opening days. Then they made two trades.
Pat Shurmur coached his first practice in Cleveland. He didn’t open it to fans, so the normal noise was missing. Camp opens to the public this morning at 8:45.
Free agents who have signed contracts – including Dawson – stood on the sideline as their teammates practiced, because the league year isn’t scheduled to officially start until Thursday. So running back Brandon Jackson and safety Usama Young were forced to wait to begin their Browns careers.
Hours after practice was completed, general manager Tom Heckert renewed acquaintances with his former co-workers in Philadelphia and traded for defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley. One practice, one trade seems the right ratio in these days of the move-a-minute NFL.
In Heckert’s first year as Eagles GM in 2006, he drafted Bunkley with the No. 14 pick out of Florida State. He acquired him Saturday for a fifth-round choice in 2012.
The Eagles announced the deal, but a Browns spokesman refused to confirm it.
Bunkley, 27, is 6-foot-2, 306 pounds and adds much-needed depth on the defensive front. He should work into a rotation with Ahtyba Rubin and rookie first-round holdout Phil Taylor.
Bunkley never made a Pro Bowl or put up huge stats in Philadelphia. He started 47 games from 2007-09 but only five of 14 in 2010 as he battled an elbow injury. He totaled 144 tackles and six sacks in his five-year tenure, according to NFL.com.
Bunkley became expendable when the Eagles acquired tackle Cullen Jenkins on Saturday. In his one-plus years in Cleveland, Heckert has made three trades with Philadelphia, where he spent the previous nine years in the front office.
Dawson is the lone member of the 1999 expansion team still on the Browns. He has been for a few years.
A devoted family man, he made the decision to sell his house in Westlake and move everyone back to Texas last season. He was convinced he was done here after a few years of not getting the contract extension and raise he desired.
But the Browns didn’t have another option worth the franchise tag, so they put it on Dawson before the lockout. He signed the one-year tender this week, expected to be worth about $3.25 million.
“To see the way the fans and the city gave me an outpouring of support, that was truly special,” he said of the end of last season. “I’m not very good at predicting the future, but I felt like that was it.
“Whether I emotionally said goodbye or not, I wanted to make sure people around here knew how I felt. So I guess that took me down a road where when I left here in January, I thought I may never come back.”
Dawson was frustrated he wasn’t allowed to kick in practice Saturday, but Cleveland knows what he can do. The same can’t be said for Young and Jackson. Young is expected to compete for a starting safety spot, and Jackson looks like a third-down back who could also spell Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty.
“Usama is an exceptional athlete,” said linebacker Scott Fujita, who played with him in New Orleans. “He’s one of those guys that can do everything on the back end. He’s big, he’s rangy, good leaping ability, great ball skills.”
Young won a Super Bowl as a backup in New Orleans in 2009. Jackson started 13 games for the Super Bowl-champion Packers last season.
“He’s a fine football player. I feel really good that we got him in the fold,” Shurmur said. “Offensively, I would say he is somewhat of a scheme fit.”
Shurmur acknowledged defensive end Jayme Mitchell will return, although he had yet to report to camp. Shurmur also said the Browns are looking for cornerbacks after Eric Wright signed Friday with Detroit. Three options, Nate Clements, Richard Marshall and Chris Carr, signed elsewhere Saturday.
The Browns were also in the market for offensive linemen, even before versatile veteran Floyd Womack turned down their offer and joined Arizona. Cleveland addressed the issue by trading an undisclosed draft pick for St. Louis’ John Greco, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The three-year veteran has four starts in 26 games and played for Shurmer the past two years when he was offensive coordinator in St. Louis.
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• PRACTICE: 8:45 a.m.-11:15 a.m. Open to the public.