Nothing surprises T.J. Carrie these days.
With months to go before Cleveland’s season opener, there’s nothing certain about where he’ll line up on a given day. It’s standard operating procedure for the Browns’ new-look secondary, which has moving pieces galore after an offseason overhaul.
Carrie, whom the Browns acquired in free agency during a slew of moves to kick off the league year, has spent time with the first and second units at various positions. The same goes for fellow new additions E.J. Gaines and Terrance Mitchell and one of the lone holdovers, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who has spent time at nickel corner and free safety. The Browns are also breaking in rookie Denzel Ward, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2018 Draft, sixth-rounder Simeon Thomas and a slew of others with the second and third units.
Ultimately, the goal is to see who rises to the challenge in an effort to solidify a back end that was too vulnerable for Gregg Williams’ liking in 2017.
“Coach Williams, he is unorthodox in a way that he is always switching the depth chart up. You come into work and you might not be where you are expected to be, but I think that he wants to see how you rise in those situations,” Carrie said. “He wants to see which players can handle which situations, which players are able to go against the good receivers and the receivers that we have here – the shifty ones. It is, in a sense that he is so unorthodox that it keeps us all on our P’s and Q’s, and that we all come out here and try to dominate. I think that is the biggest thing. That is something that we are feeding off of.”
The Browns made it a priority to upgrade their secondary, particularly cornerback, after a season in which they ranked second-to-last in the NFL in interceptions, went long stretches without a single turnover forced and were regularly vulnerable against short, quick passes that turned into long gains.
The Browns surrendered 28 passing touchdowns to just seven interceptions while allowing a league-worst opponent quarterback ranking of 102. It was a collective defensive effort that resulted in those statistics, and the Browns have made a number of moves throughout the entire unit in hopes of improving those totals in a big way.
The secondary just happened to receive one of the biggest facelifts, as last year’s starting cornerbacks, Jamar Taylor and Jason McCourty, were sent away in trades, opening the door for Cleveland’s new blood at the position.
“It’s just competition,” said Gaines, a fifth-year veteran who played under Williams in his first three seasons. “That brings out the best in everyone and it has my whole career in the NFL. These guys are hungry for competition and that’s going to let the cream rise to the top in this defense in the secondary. It starts with us.”
The Browns aren’t just looking for answers at the two traditional cornerback spots. They’re looking for options at nickel cornerback, which is on the field more than it’s not in today’s NFL, and other, field-ready players at a position where there’s no such thing as too much depth. Cleveland struggled all last season in the defensive backfield, but its issues were magnified and compounded when injuries battered the unit during the middle of the season.
Carrie and Gaines have plenty of experience at both outside and nickel cornerback. Expect even more players to get a look, as Williams notably likes all of his defensive players to know at least two spots within his scheme.
“Today's game is all about having three No. 1 corners,” Carrie said. “So many years ago it was about having two. Now with offenses being able to spread the field out with so many different receivers, you have to have at least three corners.
“It makes me want to raise my level of game and level of competition every day. If you continue to go out and make plays, you won't have anything to worry about when it comes to training camp.”