Chris Kiffin believes the Browns will see quite a few players in the defensive interior take a big step in 2022.
Both defensive tackle spots will require two new starters, and Kiffin, who is entering his third season as the defensive line coach, has high hopes for the new pieces the Browns have acquired this offseason and younger guys who have been waiting for starting opportunities.
Those players include free-agent acquisition Taven Bryan and third-year veteran Jordan Elliott — the two players who received first-team reps throughout most of organized team activities — as well as Tommy Togiai, Sheldon Day and rookie Perrion Winfrey. The group is largely unproven, but it's full of young players the Browns believe can blossom in 2022.
"We addressed (the position) in free agency with Taven, and we addressed it in the draft with Perrion," Kiffin said Wednesday at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus. "We also expect guys to take that next step with Tommy Togiai and Jordan Elliott. They know they've got to step up their game and their time is coming."
Bryan has the most starting experience of the bunch with 17 career starts, all with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who drafted him in the first round in 2018. Elliott, who was given a larger role in the Browns' interior rotation toward the end of last season, is second with four starts. Day has three, while Togiai and Winfrey have none.
But Kiffin sees untapped potential in each player. For someone like Bryan, a change of scenery — and placement in the Browns' 4-3 scheme, which is different from the 3-4 scheme the Jaguars deployed last year — could lead to more production. He totaled a career-low 15 tackles last season, but he's still 26 years old and has talents Kiffin believes he'll maximize in Cleveland.
"You can see the explosiveness and all the reasons he was a first-round pick," Kiffin said. "We're finding out how we can tap into his potential and get him to perform at a high level in our scheme. We think he's a great fit."
Elliott, a 2020 third-round pick, is another candidate to break out in 2022 after showing flashes of improvement in his first two NFL seasons. His snap count hovered close to 50 percent in the second half of last season, and he totaled a career-high 26 tackles and four quarterback hits.
The Browns knew Elliott would need a couple years to develop. Now, he's 24 and has added more muscle to his body to become the forceful defender the Browns envisioned when they picked him from Missouri.
Kiffin said he's over 310 pounds, roughly 10 pounds heavier than his weight from a year ago, and showed in OTAs that he can move with the quickness and agility needed for the position.
"He came back as strong as can be," Kiffin said. "Last training camp, he came back a little light and never caught up. This year, he's on point right now. He's moving better than he's moved here all three years."
In Winfrey, the Browns have another player whom they'd be comfortable with taking a few years to develop, although it wouldn't be surprising to see him earn a sizable role as a rookie.
Winfrey was disruptive in his final two seasons at Oklahoma, totaling six sacks in his Sooners career, and put several examples on tape of how he can explode from his 6-foot-4, 290-pound frame. The Browns love his endless energy, and Kiffin has been exploring ways to exploit it.
"We've gotten everything we've thought we'd be getting — a guy that just loves to work when he's in the building and on the field," Kiffin said. "I have a feeling that, in training camp, there's nothing that's going to tire this guy out. He's all gas, no brake as described. That's the kind of talent you want to mold, plug in place and start playing as a rookie. We're excited to see what he can do."
The competition at defensive tackle will arguably be thicker than any position on the roster, and Kiffin believes two starting-caliber players will emerge from it. The NFL production from the group might be light, but that's mostly because it's a young squad with multiple players who haven't yet had an opportunity to put their skills on full display.
That will change for many of them in training camp.
"We've got the right guys in there," Kiffin said. "We just have to mold it all together when the time comes."