Five takeaways from defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' meeting with the news media…
*1. A healthy Myles Garrett could be a game-changer for the Browns this season.
Myles Garrett wreaked havoc in Thursday night's preseason win over the Eagles, registering two sacks and three tackles in limited action. That's what Williams and the Browns expect out the second-year defensive end and former first-overall pick. "Myles Garrett is a very good football player," Williams said Sunday morning, stating the obvious.
What people don't know, he said, is how Garrett battled through a nagging ankle injury all season that would've sidelined other players. While he led the team with seven sacks in 11 games, Garrett missed the first month of his rookie year and, because of it, wasn't ever quite able to return to full strength. Now, a healthy Garrett has been almost unblockable through three exhibition games, serving as a catalyst for a Cleveland defense that looks as if it might be one of the league's top units.
"The No. 1 goal for Myles was – as soon as I told him when we met this summer was – make sure that you get to Pittsburgh and how you train," Williams said. "He's done a great job of training in practice. He's done a great job of repping in practice in the right ways of the pass rushes. He has a very good feel for pass rush."
*2. The Browns are determined to take the ball away this season.
After finishing second-to-last in takeaways last year, the Browns forced four turnovers in the first half of Thursday night's win over the Eagles. It underscored an area that Williams, head coach Hue Jackson and the entire staff emphasized throughout the offseason.
"The two things that I said earlier that we needed drastic improvement on is taking the ball away and then points allowed," Williams said. "Last week, it was very good from a confidence standpoint for their part of they are still going for the ball but they got the ball. That's important. For us to improve as a team, they have to play off of each other, stop them from the scoring opportunities and provide some short field for our offense. That was done last week, which was good to see."
Cleveland intercepted Eagles quarterback Nick Foles twice, strip-sacked him once and forced a fumble down in the red zone last week. With Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah leading the team's pass rush, it's helped out an overhauled secondary that drafted rookie cornerback Denzel Ward fourth overall, traded for free safety Damarious Randall and signed veteran corners Terrance Mitchell, T.J. Carrie and E.J. Gaines in the offseason. The back end of the Browns defense is expected to be much improved after struggling to defend the pass a year ago.
3. Cleveland's linebackers are as deep a group as he's had.
The Browns have five talented linebackers who have taken first-team reps throughout the preseason. The group — led by returning starters Christian Kirksey, Jamie Collins and Joe Schobert — got even deeper this offseason when Cleveland drafted rookie Genard Avery in the fifth round and signed former Eagles standout Mychal Kendricks in June. Avery, the former Memphis standout, has been one of the team's best pass rushers — strip-sacking Foles before suffering a hip injury — while Kendricks has racked up 458 tackles in 72 starts in Philadelphia.
"We're as deep as any that I have had in probably the last decade. When I say that the depth there allows you to play multiple packages, it allows you to play through injury because that is a violent position," Williams said. "Some of those guys are going to have injury bugs throughout the course of the year. We feel like the next man up is going to be good. It also allows u to package a few more things to where we can pose maybe more threats and problems to the offense."
*4. Jamie Collins is rounding back into form.
Collins looked like his old self Thursday, picking off Foles deep in the red zone on a second-and-goal with 1:29 to play in the first half. Collins, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Lions in November, dropped back into coverage and stepped in front of a pass intended for tight end Zach Ertz. "I can't coach that. That's his instincts, and now we coached that in a way that we love for everybody to do, but I don't have to say that more than once to Jamie," Williams said. "And he had a great feel of what we call a poach technique where he went back and stole a route, because he knew the quarterback was going there. And it's not something that everybody can do, and that's fun to see him do that."
Perhaps equally important, Williams was simply happy to watch Collins return to the field following what was the first major injury of his career. "I mentioned this to somebody else asked me that question earlier today about that, is that was the first time Jamie was ever hurt in his life," he said. "In high school, college, and everything and that is a lonely time when you're hurt, and you got to battle though that both physically and mentality. And he has made some giants strides the whole training camp."
*5. He served up a dose of tough love for Denzel Ward.
Williams offered praise for rookie cornerback Denzel Ward's instincts among other attributes but made clear the youngster needs to tackle with better technique. Williams suggested poor form was partly why Ward suffered back spasms while wrapping up Ertz in Thursday's preseason win over the Philadelphia. Williams, of course, was pleased to see Ward's injury wasn't serious and stressed a player's best ability is often his availability.
Ward, the former Ohio State standout, will face some of the league's best receivers this season and Cleveland needs the youngster healthy and ready to compete. "At this level, you have to stay healthy every day. As a pro, you have to understand that there are so many things that you have to do in a 24-hour day, and that it is you have to stay healthy," Williams said. "I tell him all of the time, there are two words that being with the letter 'A' that you have to own to be a professional football player – one is accountable, and the next one is available. When you're not available, you're working on your training room internships."