The Cleveland Browns invested a lot in their defense over the past two seasons, and now the seeds of hope should produce plentiful fruit in 2017.
The Browns’ considerable struggles on defense have been widely criticized, but at the same time, poorly critiqued.
This was exemplified through spectators and team management alike.
However, the Browns have quietly went about making adjustments during this off season that may change the way this defense is perceived. The Browns have made some quality moves in changing their defense from detrimental to potential.
Change has been a common theme for the Browns in the last few seasons and the defense has not been an exception to that. In fact, the Browns have made several new additions to their defense whether it be new draftees, signings through free agency, or trade. A shift from the old ways is exactly the kind of refresher that the Browns needed.
One of the first moves that the Browns made in regards to re-configuring their defense came last October when the team acquired Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins for a conditional draft pick. This was a sizable splash in the market as Collins was a Pro Bowl participant just one season prior. Collins registered two sacks for the Browns last season.
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The Browns have attained quite the bounty from the 2017 NFL Draft when it comes to defensive talent. Defensive end Myles Garrett and safety Jabrill Peppers were selected in the first round. The additions of young talent and fresh energy will do wonders for this defense. The Browns went on to draft three more defensive players in third round DL Larry Ogunjobi, fourth round CB Howard Wilson, and sixth round DT Caleb Brantley.
Further additions to the Browns include the signing of ex Tennessee Titans safety Jason McCourty and trade product ex New York Jets safety Calvin Pryor. This was a nice combination move from the Browns to add two veterans to match with the plethora of upper level draftees.
In order to put all of these newly sorted pieces together, Hue Jackson fired defensive coordinator Ray Horton and signed on former Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. This further evidences the Browns’ urgency to hit the reset button when it comes to their defensive personnel. Williams provides valuable experience as he has been with several different teams around the league in the duration of his long coaching tenure. This includes winning a championship as Williams was the defensive coordinator for the Saints when the team won Super Bowl XLIV.
Defensively, the Browns are in a great position to take a step in the right direction this season. This unit is loaded with potential and has a solid staff directing it.
This defense has the youth as well as the experience to grow into a solid unit. Everything will come down to how well it all meshes in the end.
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Myles Garrett will provide an immediate force off the edge. His size and speed combination alone will be difficult for any protection to stop. Jabrill Peppers’ variety of skills paired with exceptional athletic ability will give the team plenty of flexibility.
McCourty and Pryor have the ability to step in immediately and make an impact. The addition of two capable safeties were absolutely necessary for the Browns as they let up the most passing touchdowns in the league last season.
The addition of former Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins has not been felt yet as he joined in the middle of last season. His role figures to expand as he becomes more familiar with the defense and hopefully returns to playing like the Pro Bowl type player he once was. Collins’ play is likely to improve in the upcoming season with confidence in the new coaching staff and a retooled lineup.
The Browns will also return Joe Haden and Christian Kirksey who will continue to be solid contributors. The clean slate will help in inspiring them to step their game up as well. Their roles as experienced leaders on this defense will be critical in this unit’s building process.
Gregg Williams has coached some top tier talent in the last few years with the Rams. This includes players like Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn who each have multiple Pro Bowl selections in their resumes. Williams should be able to get the most out of the young talents that the Browns added through the draft. His experience with pass rushers Quinn and Donald with the Rams makes it even more conceivable that he will get the most out of Garrett and Collins in particular.
The Browns have solidified a solid base to build on with new coaching staff and fresh personnel on defense. Immediate success may not be the first result but that isn’t necessarily the main concern. Success will come smoother if the Browns stay down until they come up.