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Browns Mailbag: How big of a jump can the pass defense take?

Staff writer Anthony Poisal answers your questions every week


The first off-day of training camp for players has arrived, but we're keeping the content train rolling with another Mailbag.

To wrap the week, we're talking about the pass defense, Demetric Felton and some draft "steals" from the last two years. Keep asking away as we continue the march through camp.

How did the Browns defense rank against the pass last year and will they make a big improvement this year? - Rob M., Fairmont WV

Everyone in the secondary certainly believes a big improvement is coming. S John Johnson III and CB Greg Newsome II both spoke confidently this week that they think the group can be one of, if not the best secondary in the league this year, but they know they'll need health on their side as well as big seasons from everyone to make that possible.

"I think that's our aspiration," Newsome said on Day 1 of training camp. "On paper, I think we can be that, but we have to show that we can do it every game. There were games last year where we showed we were really dominant, and there were games last year when it looked like we took a step back. We have to find a way to be consistent."

The Browns had the fifth-best pass defense in the league last year and allowed only 202.3 yards per game. They allowed over 300 passing yards in a game just twice last season — Week 1 against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, and Week 5 against Justin Herbert and the Chargers — and were mostly excellent the rest of the season, although they still have one area they're looking to massively improve: takeaways.

Defensive coordinator Joe Woods said that's one of the top primary areas of improvement he wants his group to focus on in training camp. The Browns ranked tied for 18th in the league with 40 takeaways forced the last two years, and an “Alpha Dog” training camp competition throughout the defense is one way Woods is hoping to invigorate the group to be more aggressive attacking the football.

"We greatly have to improve that because that is one of the major categories that you have to note, if not the most important category, when it comes to winning games," Woods said. "We are definitely going to get into Alpha Dog mode here in a couple days."

The continuity among the group will certainly help, too. Slot CB Troy Hill, who was traded to the Rams in April, was the lone secondary player not returning for 2022. Newsome is the top candidate to take his place inside, while Greedy Williams will likely move into the second outside role across from Denzel Ward.

Other than that change, the group is mostly the same and has the experience and chemistry to be great.

"I think we've built those scars and healed up from them," Johnson said, "and now we can put our foot to the gas and get things going."

Check out photos of players and coaches working throughout camp

Is Demetric Felton going to be a WR and Special Teams this year, and no longer RB? - John R., Columbus

Felton has primarily played at wide receiver to begin training camp, and it's possible that's where he stays for the remainder of camp given the crowdedness of the running back room.

The RB group contains Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D'Ernest Johnson and rookie fifth-rounder Jerome Ford at the top of the list. That's a lot of running backs the Browns are trying provide with reps — and the position also includes John Kelly Jr. — so it makes sense for them to give the versatile Felton as many reps at receiver as he can get at his other position.

"He is a very versatile football player," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "There is an opportunity right now for him to get some receiver reps. We can bounce him back into that running back room at any point. Really, he is smart enough where he can do both within a given practice so when you do have injuries at either position, he is a bonus player who can go into either room, if you will."

Felton compiled most of his production last year as a receiver with 18 catches for 181 yards and two touchdowns. He also recorded seven carries for 24 yards. His shiftiness and burst are arguably his two best tools and why he works well at both positions, and it'll definitely be worth monitoring where the Browns allot his reps for the remainder of training camp.

Which is the bigger steal? Getting JOK in the 2nd of last year's draft or getting Perrion Winfrey in the 4th this year? - Rick G., Akron, OH

It might be a little too soon to call Winfrey "a steal" considering his pro career just started, but he certainly has the potential to fall in that category, especially if he steps into a big role in the interior at any point in his rookie season.

For that reason, we'll go with Owusu-Koramoah, who looked really good at points last year as a rookie and has breakout potential this season. The 2021 second-round pick who many believed would be a first-rounder finished second on the Browns with 76 tackles last year and brings a different gear of speed and athleticism to the middle of the defense. 

"He's very, very athletic and very explosive," Woods said. "When he puts his foot in the ground, he can go from Point A to B right now. His ability to match up in coverage and his ability to make plays in space is unique."

Woods said Owusu-Koramoah can take a leap this year by refining his instincts and learning how to be even smarter with his speed to make plays. That type of progression takes time for players with those kind of skills, but Owusu-Koramoah believes he'll be be more consistent in that area this year now that he has a season of experience.

"For me, it was more so just being patient, knowing there is a time and place for everything," he said. "As I always speak on, just the tempo and being able to know when to use my speed, when to use my quickness and things like that. The more I do it, the more I get better at it."

OK, let's get back to Winfrey. We know after four days of camp that he's mostly taken second-team snaps, but defensive line coach Chris Kiffin explained Saturday none of the DT spots are solidified yet. It wouldn't be surprising to see Winfrey, an Oklahoma product who many draft analysts believed could be drafted in the second round, get some time first-team reps, although he — like all fourth-round picks — still needs time to develop his game.

"He brings a good attitude," Kiffin said. "He's an attacking three-technique that we love in this scheme. He can get off and be disruptive. That's what he did in college, and that's why we brought him here."

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