BEREA, Ohio (AP) — 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.
On Sunday, 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.
And soon, they'll have a rookie owner as Jimmy Haslam's purchase of the franchise is expected to be approved next month.
But 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. "We are young, but we have better players and we have better depth. I believe our special team's has a chance to be much better. If you're going to build it the way we're going to build it, there's a chance you have these types of numbers."
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. But 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."
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