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.
After Monday’s examination of the quarterbacks, we’re flipping to the opposite side of the ball to examine a group led by another No. 1 pick.
THE DEFENSIVE ENDS
Check out photos of the Browns defensive ends
What we know: In Garrett, the Browns have one of the league’s most talented pass rushers who has yet to even enter the prime of his career. After an injury-marred rookie season, Garrett provided a constant threat throughout his second year and finished just shy of the team record with 13.5 sacks. He did this while playing the vast majority of snaps during stretches of the season -- something he later admitted hindered his stamina a bit in the final parts of games. He’ll have a new running mate on the opposite side of the line with Vernon joining the fold. The former Giants Pro Bowler, who was part of the massive trade that also netted Odell Beckham Jr., gives the Browns a significant pass rushing upgrade on the left side of the line and a solid veteran presence in an otherwise young room of defensive ends. He also gets to move back to his comfort zone as a defensive end after playing as an outside linebacker in New York’s 3-4 last year. Emmanuel Ogbah, the primary starter on the left side of the defensive line last year, is gone in the wake of a trade to the Chiefs, but the Browns return the two players -- Smith and Zettel -- who spelled Ogbah and Garrett the most. All told, the Browns got 17.5 sacks from players classified as defensive ends (Genard Avery, who is listed as a linebacker but worked a lot with the defensive ends during the offseason workout program, had 4.5). They want a higher total in 2019, and the belief is they’ll get it because Garrett has more help around him.
What we don’t know: How exactly Vernon helps Garrett and makes Cleveland’s pass rush better has to be filed in the “wait and see” category until we actually see it. The optimism is certainly there, but there’s plenty of work to be done in the meantime. “I think with all of the guys on the line, I’m going to get that extra second,” Garrett said. “You have OV and (DT) Sheldon (Richardson), and (DT) Larry (Ogunjobi) is back and healthy. It is going to be a force to be reckoned with, with how they come off of the ball and what we have learned during this time we have had off. I think we are all going to be going after the quarterback.” … There’s a spot or two seemingly up for grabs in this position group. Thomas, a former third-round pick, didn’t play much at all as a rookie but he’s certainly in the running to be a rotational player. He’ll be competing with the likes of Smith, Zettel and the team’s undrafted rookies for one of those roles. “I think Chad is a very talented football player,” Browns general manager John Dorsey said in April. “Usually, guys in the first year into their second year make exponential strides and growth. I see him getting a lot of playing time this year. I could see him getting some rotational playing time and really developing into a really good football player.”
X-Factor: Just how much could Avery, a dynamic pass rusher who blossomed as a rookie, impact this position group if this is where he spends more and more of his snaps? What’s clear is that Avery will have a role on this defense -- “a guy who is going to fit into the defense someway,” as assistant general manager Eliot Wolf described him in April -- and that could mean more time lined up as a traditional defensive end -- especially if Cleveland stays healthy at linebacker. Linebackers coach Al Holcomb said Avery is still “very much so” a member of his group but stressed “when he came out of Memphis, he was he was on the line of scrimmage, predominantly rushing the passer so our job as coaches is to really try to put our players in the best position possible, positions that they're comfortable in and advantageous so that we can get the production out of them.”
The biggest number: 86 -- Percentage of snaps played by Garrett in 2018. Though that percentage trailed the likes of someone like J.J. Watt, who played 90 percent of the snaps last year in Houston, it meant Garrett was on the field for 1,012 snaps compared to Watt’s 963 -- almost an extra three quarters of pass rushing.
Says it all: “Does it take some pressure off Myles? Maybe it does. I don’t know yet. We will have to wait and see, but I know those guys are going to be a major factor either making plays or allowing Myles to make plays.” -- Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks
How many were kept on initial 53-man roster last year?: 5