BEREA, Ohio -- Benjamin Watson looked at the name plates and fresh faces surrounding him as he dressed after practice. The 31-year-old tight end noticed the Cleveland Browns have gotten a whole lot younger.
"In this locker room, my 3-year-old's old," he joked.
He's hardly, well, kidding.
With 15 rookies and 12 other players with less than two years of experience on the 53-man roster, the Browns are counting on youth to serve them in 2012. They are the first team since Kansas City in 2008 to have 15 rookies for the opening game, and with an average age of 26 years, 10 days, the Browns are the NFL's second-youngest squad, according to STATS LLC.
"They have fresh legs," coach Pat Shurmur cracked the other day.
That's true, but the young Browns will also have to endure some growing pains in the weeks ahead. There's no substitute for experience, and it will be quite some time before they'll have any to draw upon. Still, the Browns aren't worried that they're too young to be good.
Today against a Philadelphia team many believe can win the Super Bowl, the Browns will start a rookie quarterback (Brandon Weeden), rookie running back (Trent Richardson), rookie right offensive tackle (Mitchell Schwartz) , rookie defensive tackle (Billy Winn), and possibly rookie wide receiver (Josh Gordon), if they open in a three-wide formation.
Aoon, they'll have a rookie owner as Jimmy Haslam's purchase of the franchise is expected to be approved next month.
The young Browns will face a stiff test in trying to contain Michael Vick, the Eagles' superstar quarterback. Vick appears to be fully recovered from an injured thumb and bruised ribs, which limited him to just 12 snaps during the exhibition season. He didn't even make the trip to Cleveland for Philadelphia's 27-10 win over the Browns on Aug. 24, when backup QB Nick Foles threw two touchdown passes. Vick's health is the key for Philadelphia, as always.
"I feel good going into this game," Vick said. "I feel like I'm 100 percent, and I don't really have any nagging injuries. I think I'm fully recovered. The last two weeks have really helped me get there. I'm just ready to go."
Browns president Mike Holmgren doesn't think the team's innocent look will be a detriment.
"This football team, even though it's young, is physically much better," Holmgren said.
At 28, Weeden is no ordinary rookie, and he'll be the first to start an opener at quarterback for Cleveland. Weeden didn't expect the Browns to be so green in his first season.
"It's a lot," he said of the team's large rookie class. "I'm not a numbers buff as far as NFL history, but this has got to be close to a record. There's a lot of rookies, but there's good ones, really good players. Whether they're 22, 28, or whatever, they're rookies and there's going to be some ups and some downs."
Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson expects a rollercoaster ride.
He knows there will be times when his young teammates are overwhelmed. It's just part of the deal. Jackson said there's something special about being around a bunch of eager, excited teammates who don't know what's ahead of them and who don't seem to care.
"It brings the team together, having young guys around, they're playful and doing this and doing that," he said. "There's always fun everywhere."
Weeden said the team's young blood is an advantage.
"We've got some guys, they don't get tired," Weeden said. "They run around, they just continue to go like the Energizer Bunny."
No tribute for Modell
CLEVELAND -- Avoiding a potentially ugly scene, the Browns will honor a request by Art Modell's family and not acknowledge his death before today's season opener.
The Browns had planned an "appropriate recognition" for Modell, who died on Thursday at the age of 87. Modell's son, David, spoke to Mike Holmgren and asked the team not to do anything to recognize the late owner who remains vilified in Cleveland for moving his team to Baltimore in 1995.