The loss of two starters in the offseason made change inevitable, but the flux at safety has been a recurring theme for the Browns all season.
That is, until the start of November.
After a big injury and some inconsistent performances, the Browns have settled on rookie Derrick Kindred and second-year player Ed Reynolds II at the back end of their defense. The improbable duo has been one of the sources of optimism on a Cleveland defense that hasn't closed out a victory, but has shown tangible improvement in losses to the Steelers and Giants.
"I think right now with (Kindred) and Ed back there, that's our best tandem because you've got a guy with some skins on the wall," Browns secondary coach Louie Cioffi said Tuesday. "He's kind of settled it down back there, guy's making checks and making calls and the coverage has been better the last few weeks. Those guys, we put a lot on them. They're like the quarterbacks of the defense. It's a good combination, and I'm looking forward to watching them."
Kindred has been in the mix since the first game of the season, when he made a couple of noticeable plays and earned the right to see the field even more. Kindred started Weeks 3 and 4 in place of an injured Ibraheim Campbell before taking on a timeshare of sorts with Jordan Poyer and Campbell.
After Poyer was knocked out for the season Week 6, the Browns tinkered with a number of different combinations that included Campbell, Kindred and rookie Tracy Howard. Kindred started Weeks 8 and 9 and then again Week 11 against Pittsburgh in what coach Hue Jackson described as his best game yet with the Browns.
On Sunday against the Giants, Kindred started and played all but two snaps. He's third on the team with 46 tackles.
"I think he's shown the ability to be a very tenacious, aggressive, in-the-box run stopper," Cioffi said. "That's where he's excelled this year. He's very disruptive near and around the line of scrimmage. We worked on the tackling in space. That's the hardest part of this game. He's also started to play more off coverage in the deeper half and deeper middle. Those are the things we're trying to develop him on.
"I think he's going to be a very solid player in this league."
Reynolds wasn't even with the Browns until the first week of the regular season and wasn't a part of the active roster until Oct. 18. The former fifth-round pick spent his first two years bouncing between the active roster and practice squad with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Still, Reynolds gained experience along the way, and in a Browns defensive backs room that is among the youngest in the NFL, it stood out. Reynolds saw the field as a reserve from Weeks 7-9 before getting his first start Week 10 against the Ravens. He's barely missed a snap in the past three weeks while accumulating 16 tackles.
But his role has gone far beyond tangible statistics, Cioffi said. The "skins on the wall" Reynolds brings to the back end of the defense have paid dividends.
"He's a solid kid, very smart, takes really good angles out of the secondary," Cioffi said. "Because he's had some experience and the way he came in and his relationship with some of the players, he's emerged as a leader of the safety group. That's kind of brought him to the forefront and guys have confidence in him when he's out there."