First of all, let’s set something straight.
The Browns have completed two pad-less practices, so it’d be silly — preposterous, even — to draw conclusions on how the regular season will go for their offense or defense. You only learn so much by watching players attempt to tackle each other by essentially playing two-hand touch football.
It’s safe to say, however, that the first two days of camp have been fruitful for the Browns’ defensive line.
Fans and pundits have graced the highlights from wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. already making near-impossible catches and quarterback Baker Mayfield hitting receivers in stride for big gains, which are certainly easier to come by when, you know, there’s no real tackling.
The defense has proved it’s worthy of attention, too. Day 2 was full of batted balls and quick penetration from the Browns’ revamped defensive front, which added two Pro Bowlers in defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and defensive end Olivier Vernon over the offseason.
Maybe that attention will come if the defense continues to shine when the pads are worn Saturday, but it won’t concern defensive end Myles Garrett.
“It does not bother me at all,” Garrett said. “I don’t mind not getting any attention. I don’t mind it on the field either. If you don’t want to block me, I will be willing to take the sack, too. I am not a spotlight kind of guy. They can have all of that. I’m just going to make plays and be there for my defense like I am supposed to be.”
Check out photos from the second day of Browns Camp by team photographer Matt Starkey
With Garrett, Vernon and Richardson — a trio that combined for 25 sacks last season — the Browns defensive line has a formidable core that boasts one of the better pass-rushing abilities in the league. Add in the potential of third-year defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, and the Browns defensive line could become a quarterback’s nightmare.
Again, no pads have been worn yet, but the offensive line can already attest to the ferocity of talent the Browns have on the other side of the line.
“It’s been fun to battle those guys,” veteran guard Joel Bitonio said. “Myles is Myles, but then you bring in Olivier Vernon, you bring in Sheldon, and Larry keeps improving going into Year 3 now. They are not going to do dumb things out there, so it is good that they are working to make us better, and I think we are going to make them better, as well.”
At one point in practice Friday, Mayfield jokingly asked if he could just throw one pass through the defensive line. A wall of arms has appeared whenever he sets his feet, and there have been plenty of jump balls flying around the line of scrimmage two days into camp.
Mayfield won’t let that hinder his development, though. He actually welcomes that challenge, and he thinks it will help him release the ball quicker, which he struggled with in his first few weeks as a rookie in 2018, when the regular season starts.
“The goal of training camp is to compete every day and make each other better,” Mayfield said. “Having those guys up front being able to rush the passer pretty well is good for us. They are making us better.”
Both the offensive and defensive lines are looking forward to wearing pads for the first time Saturday. The pads offer offensive linemen something to grab, which will make it harder for the defense to maneuver around blocks and raise their arms.
But with pads, the defense can push and shove even harder, too, and if it continues to swat balls at the same torrid pace, it won’t be far-fetched to predict a big year from the Browns defensive front.
Instead, it would be smart.