A.J. Green has been hard to miss through the first week of Browns training camp.
Few defensive backs on the roster have made as many plays as Green, a third-year veteran CB who has recorded one of two interceptions thrown by the offense in team drills. He's also gotten his hands on several other passes, including two on the same practice last Wednesday and another on Tuesday.
His coverages have been sound and efficient, and his development since he joined the Browns in 2020 as an undrafted free agent from Oklahoma State has been more evident than ever.
"I've been in the system for a couple years now," Green said. "I know the defense, and I know what (defensive coordinator) Joe Woods expects. I have a good feel for what the offense is trying to attack and what the defense's weaknesses are and where there are soft spots. At that point, it kind of becomes reactive and I use my instincts."
Check out photos of players and coaches working throughout camp
Green appeared in 12 games last season and was primarily used on special teams with the exception of three games. He played in 92 percent of defensive snaps in Week 5, 56 percent of snaps in Week 17 and 100 percent of snaps in Week 18. He collected an impressive six pass breakups and one interception — the final interception Ben Roethlisberger ever threw at Heinz Field — and was given an excellent 86.2 overall grade by Pro Football Focus for the year.
This year, Green might find himself in a similar role to open the season, but it's not because he lacks talent.
Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome II and Greedy Williams fill the top of the cornerback depth chart, with Green and rookie third-rounder M.J. Emerson Jr. slotting behind them. Emerson and Green have flipped between first and second team reps to begin camp, and both players have occasionally been used on nickel and dime packages as an extra defensive back.
If you ask Newsome, Green would be in a higher role on any other NFL team.
"He's amazing," Newsome said. "I said it last year and I'll say it again: If he wasn't on this team, he can go and be a starter anywhere else in the league. He's that good and that talented. He's been having a great camp.
"Whenever we need him to be on that field, he's always there ready to go."
That's how Green stepped into most of his defensive action last season.
When injuries hit the Browns' cornerback position early in the game in Week 5 against the Chargers, Green filled in and had to handle Mike Williams. The assignment wasn't easy — Williams recorded 165 yards and two touchdowns that game — but Green showed growth from that experience in his other two high-volume games.
His next big opportunity was in Pittsburgh, where he intercepted Roethlisberger and had two other pass breakups in assignments against Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. Both receivers were limited to no more than 31 yards.
The following week, he registered a pass breakup against the Bengals. Both sides sat their starters for most of the game, but Green still looked strong in the first game of his career where he didn't miss a snap.
"The thing that really sticks out to me with A.J. is his ability to go in and learn," defensive backs coach/pass game coordinator Jeff Howard said. "The situation is never too big for him. We've had DBs go down and he jumps into the game and plays at a high level."
The crowded room means Green's playing time could still be limited in 2022, but he said that doesn't frustrate him. The defensive backs have a tight bond that makes the environment enjoyable for each of them, and it encourages Green to make the most of his practice reps — no matter whether they're with the first team or second team.
Each time Green has picked a pass off or swatted a ball down in training camp, he's been swarmed by several of his teammates shouting and celebrating the play.
"I definitely feed off that energy," he said. "The DB room as a whole, we all jell together. We all have fun at the end of the day, but we also handle business."
Green has handled business well through the first nine practices of camp. He knows that work will pay off at certain points of the regular season, when injuries arise or guys will need a quick breather on the sidelines.
If he continues to look strong in camp, he'll be first in line to replace them, and the Browns can feel confident knowing there won't be a drop-off in performance.
"I go out there and I just work," he said. "I just put my best foot forward. Good competition in this building, and I want to step up to the plate and show I can play with the best."