All season, Browns coach Freddie Kitchens has implored his players to do their job and trust the players around them. Anything other than that mindset can lead to mistakes and kinks in the execution of the overall operation.
The mantra, of course, doesn’t change because of the indefinite suspension of Pro Bowl pass rusher Myles Garrett. It just adds a little bit of a twist to it.
Kitchens explained why Monday as the Browns regrouped for their first practice without Garrett, who is out for the year (pending an appeal) after his well-documented confrontation with Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph.
“The strength is in numbers, and we have 11 guys out there for a reason,” Kitchens said. “Everybody has to do just a little bit more. Everybody has to do their job just a little bit more, often. You can not rely on the fact that so many things can get covered up because you have an elite pass rusher there. We got some other guys that can get after the quarterback.
“But his production will be missed so we need some guys that step up in his production area. But also, we have to rely on our corners a little more. We got to rely on our linebackers a little more. We got 11 guys that can take up that slack a little bit."
Check out photos of the Browns in action against the Steelers on Thursday Night Football
Garrett was in the midst of his best season as a professional and was making a legitimate case for Defensive Player of the Year. He was near the top of the league with 10 sacks and wreaked plenty of havoc on the plays that didn’t end with the quarterback falling to the ground. Twice against the Steelers, Garrett drew a holding penalty that backed up the Steelers and ultimately led to a punt.
His spot will be filled -- likely by a combination of Chris Smith and Chad Thomas whenever Olivier Vernon returns from a knee injury -- but the every-down fear factor will be impossible to replace. That’s not a knock on his replacements; that’s just how dominant of a player Garrett is.
“Myles is a once-in-a-generation player, so obviously, not having the guy out on the field is going to be hard,” linebacker Joe Schobert said. “But I think guys like Chad, I said earlier, showed up at the game last week with a sack and should have had an interception. We have other guys that can make plays and long as everybody on the defense knows their role and know their assignments, I have full confidence in everybody that is going to be out there.”
Thomas has already proven capable of stepping up. The second-year player out of Miami has played well during Vernon’s absence, collecting sacks in each of his starts and providing a nice complement to Garrett on the other side of the line. In the event Vernon is still out Sunday against the Dolphins, veteran Chris Smith likely would be called upon for more extensive action.
“Chris’ effort is very good. His attention to detail needs to be better. His assignments need to be better,” Kitchens said. “I think sometimes you do not find out about guys until they are thrust into action with a more prominent role, and we will find out.”
The Browns added Bryan Cox for some depth at defensive end last week and, with the potential of a few roster spots to fill, could add more players at the position in the coming days.
Whoever it is lined up in Garrett’s spot Sunday and beyond won’t be asked to replicate Garrett’s production. He, along with the rest of the players behind him, will simply be asked to do just a little bit more for the greater good of all.
“It is going to be tough,” cornerback T.J. Carrie said, “But I think we have a lot of depth behind him to everybody to now realize that whoever fills his position is definitely going to have to play well, but everyone as a whole, we are going to have to take it up another notch.
“We all have to look within ourselves and say, ‘What can I do better for myself to help elevate for the missing piece that we have?’ When you look at it from that standpoint, it does not put stress just on a few positions that we are missing now. It more so puts stress on you as an individual, and now you really critique yourself and say, ‘OK, this is what I want to do differently to enhance and make our team better.’”