The Browns’ summer break is still in full swing, but we’re back in the office and applying extra precautionary layers of sunscreen as we prepare for 2019 training camp. It’s going to be a zoo in Berea, and we’re ready to chronicle absolutely everything that happens.
As part of that preparation, we’re putting each position group under our finest microscope over the next two weeks. This roster is full of star power, sure, but it’s going to take all 53 -- and more -- for the Browns to accomplish their goals.
Our last stop on the defensive side of the ball is the unit’s last line of defense.
Check out photos of Browns Safeties
What we know: The Browns had to part with an every-game starter on the rise when they sent Jabrill Peppers to New York in the well-documented Odell Beckham Jr. trade. That’s the price of doing business when you acquire one of the best wide receivers in the game. The other regular at strong safety, Derrick Kindred, was released, giving general manager John Dorsey plenty of roster spots to fill with new faces, young and old, at the position opposite of Randall. Burnett, a veteran who was played out of position in Pittsburgh last season, is the most prototypical strong safety in the group, but the Browns have already shown during their offseason practices they plan to be versatile in the back end of their defense. Murray and Whitehead can play in a variety of locations and, really, so can Randall, a former cornerback with Green Bay who was pressed into cornerback duties a handful of times with the Browns last year. This might have been Cleveland’s biggest question mark on defense before the start of free agency, but the group enters training camp with a nice variety of players who can be mixed and matched depending on the formation.
What we don’t know: Whitehead was one of the biggest “stars” of the offseason workout program, going from a little-discussed, midseason waiver claim to a regular with the first-team defense during the spring. It’s worth noting Burnett was held out of a good chunk of the offseason because of a minor injury, but Whitehead clearly impressed his teammates and coaches. Will he be in a true competition for a starting spot? Does it even matter, considering the Browns could deploy a number of different looks that could essentially give three safeties starter-worthy responsibilities? And where does Murray fit in with all of this? Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks likes having options in this part of the defense, and he certainly has a bunch of them -- more than was perhaps anticipated given Whitehead’s rise -- with this current group of players
X-Factor: Randall. It’s not often we give the frontline, no doubt starter this distinction, but Randall fits the bill because there’s a good possibility his best football is still ahead of him. Randall played at a Pro Bowl level in just his first full NFL season at a position he played in college. On top of that, he gave the Browns plenty of options whenever the team’s cornerbacks dealt with injuries or, even simpler, bad matchups. If he’s even better than that in 2019, the Browns will be sending more than one defensive back to the Pro Bowl.
The biggest number: 11 -- Playoff games logged by Burnett since 2011, all of which he started. That’s the kind of leadership and big-game experience the Browns loved to add to their locker room when they signed the veteran. ““He is the definition of a leader. He kind of gets those guys together. He has been through the fire,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said.
Says it all: “I had Damarious when he was a rookie. He’s at his natural position as safety. I think you’re going to see him really just take off. He’s always been a football junkie. He loves football. He’s smart. Now, we just have to make sure he just learns the system and then go get the ball and do the things he does.” -- pass game coordinator/secondary coach Joe Whitt on Randall
How many were kept on last year’s initial 53-man roster?: 4