M.J. Emerson Jr. had to remind himself to stay focused on the field several times during his career at Mississippi State.
The reminder wasn't because of a lack of concentration or struggles. Emerson, a rookie CB the Browns drafted in the third round, was feeling the dull repetitiveness of not having the ball thrown to the receiver he was covering.
He was targeted only 59 times in 410 coverage snaps (14 percent) in 2020, and that number shrunk to 49 targets in 374 coverage snaps (13 percent) in his final college season. Emerson didn't have an interception in either of those years — partially due to the lack of targets — but he led the Bulldogs with 11 pass breakups in 2020 and had three more of them in 2021.
Emerson was hungry for the football. Quarterbacks wouldn't give him many opportunities to take it.
"Sometimes I'd have to tell myself 'lock in' — the ball is coming sooner than later,'" Emerson said Friday. "It really didn't come too much."
Emerson expects that to change in his first NFL season, and he's wise in doing so.
Rookie defensive backs are constantly targeted their first year in the league as quarterbacks attempt to find their weaknesses and expose their lack of experience. It happened to his position teammate, Greg Newsome II, last year when he was a rookie and was targeted 58 times, just 13 less targets than top corner Denzel Ward, who also played three more games than Newsome.
Emerson won't be expected to play the same amount as Newsome, a 2021 first-round rookie, played his first year in the league, but he'll still be a key depth piece at the position and will be a player the Browns will depend on if injuries arise.
Whenever he's on the field, Emerson will undoubtedly be tested. He's ready for the challenge.
"I'm very excited," he said with a big smile.
Emerson has mostly played on the second team so far in training camp but has occasionally moved up to the first team with Ward nursing a foot injury. He's looked smooth and has knocked down a few balls, and his 6-foot-2 frame gives him the edge in size against most receivers.
He uses that length to be physical at the line of scrimmage and knock receivers off their route timing.
"Receivers, they don't like to get touched," Emerson said. "I just use my size to my advantage."
Head coach Kevin Stefanski has been pleased with Emerson's development through the offseason program and first week of camp.
"I think he is really competitive," Stefanski said. "He does a nice job out at practice and competing for the ball. He's very intelligent. We knew that going into that process with the draft. That has shown up. He does what he's supposed to do when he's supposed to do it, so he has been very accountable in that way. He has been as advertised and why we are excited to get him."
Here's what else you might have missed from Day 8 in Berea:
Check out photos of players and coaches working throughout camp