Andrew Billings had one mission to accomplish in the five weeks of rest he had between minicamp in June and training camp in July: lose weight.
Before minicamp, Billings, a fifth-year DT veteran, hadn't played football in over a year. He elected to opt out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, which presented a higher risk to him because he suffers from asthma, and tried to do all he could to ensure he didn't miss a beat, both in his physical shape and in football IQ.
Nothing compares to the grind of a full football season, though. So when Billings, who now weighs 328 pounds, departed Berea after minicamp in June, Browns coaches told him to drop a few pounds — 20, to be exact.
Billings got the job done. He spent the summer in Atlanta and lost the weight in five weeks thanks to days full of runs and sprints.
"I went down south, back to the heat," he said Saturday before the Browns' ninth practice of training camp. "So far, so good. I'm back in the groove."
Billings has looked leaner and performed well so far through the first week of camp, where he's mostly worked on the first team and certainly hasn't looked as though he's gone a year without football. He played his first four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and has recorded 3.5 sacks, 80 tackles and 14 tackles for a loss in 47 games.
Browns coaches have lauded Billings for making the most of his off days between minicamp and training camp and believe he's put himself in position to be a heavy contributor on the D-Line.
"Andrew did a great job working on his body," head coach Kevin Stefanski said last week. "He's in a good spot. He's extremely powerful. You should hear the weight coaches talk about his power."
Billings has always been one of the strongest men on the field since high school, when he was a Texas state powerlifting champion and deadlifted 705 pounds, squatted 805 and benched 500 pounds. He was dubbed "College Football's Strongest Player" by NFL.com in 2016 and was recently labeled "the strongest guy I've ever seen" by defensive line coach Chris Kiffin.
"He lifts up our sled — it's like 2,000 pounds," Kiffin said.
The Browns have seen early in camp how that strength can translate to the field.
Even though the team has only conducted three padded practices, Stefanski has seen Billings make an impact in the run game and plug the middle for no gains. He, as well as 10-year veteran Malik Jackson, have done a serviceable job while leading the eight-player competition for starting DT spots.
"He understands what we are trying to get done," Stefanski said. "He has a rare ability to move people."
If Billings sticks as a starter for Week 1, there are plenty of reasons to believe he can build one of his best seasons yet.
Two of those reasons? Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. Both players have provided plenty of evidence so far in camp they'll apply loads of pressure to quarterbacks. There's no doubt the duo can help each other generate some of their best football, but they can also be a major asset for the interior guys, too.
When Garrett and Clowney bulldoze their way to backfields, Billings will be up front waiting to pounce if the quarterback has nowhere to go.
"Guys like Clowney and Myles can push that pocket and put pressure in there," he said. "If we do our job, that should help increase their sacks and help us out when the quarterback does step up and step into our arms."
The Browns need Billings to help shore up the interior and provide a veteran presence in what could be one of the most formidable defensive lines in the NFL. That's why they asked him to trim down his weight for training camp.
Billings did just that. Now, he's in position to win one of the top competitions on the defense and make the most of his rejuvenated self in 2021.
"We're ready to get back to the playoffs," he said. "Everybody is working hard out here. This team is just a good atmosphere."