The Browns' secondary has not shied away from expectations. In fact, the players have welcomed the challenge with open arms: They want to be the best unit in the league.
"We come into practice every day and our mindset is that we are the best cover team in the National Football League," secondary coach Jeff Hafley said.
"That's our mentality," said 30-year-old safety Donte Whitner.
"Lockdown on the Lake" has been a prevalent theme posted on social media by players in this unit, and during spring practice sessions they consistently flustered the offense. Three Pro Bowlers headline the secondary, but so do two young blossoming cornerbacks who give Cleveland unbelievable flexibility in terms of depth.
Robert Nelson Jr.
What happened at OTAs? Haden was able to cross-train at nickel back. That now means opposing offenses will have a tougher time recognizing when the Browns use man or zone coverages. Tramon Williams rehabbed an injury during minicamp but is expected to be the starter opposite of Haden. Gipson ended his holdout and has been in the building for most of July working out. When he wasn't here, Poyer looked every bit capable of being an impact starter if needed. Perhaps no player on the roster made a bigger leap in the offseason than K'Waun Williams, who drew constant praise from Pettine.
Under the radar: Desir has shed the long-term project label and will most likely see the field Week 1 in certain packages against the Jets. In Week 16, the Lindenwood University grad started in place of Haden against the Panthers and held his own against Kelvin Benjamin. Desir is every bit of 6-foot-2, 206 pounds, and the 24-year-old has won the respect of teammates and coaches with a relentless commitment to show improvement.
Variables to consider: What if the flashes Gilbert showed during OTAs come to fruition on the field? Cleveland will rely heavily on the veteran Williams, but if Gilbert makes significant strides, it'll be hard not to play him. Can Gipson produce another flurry of interceptions as the ball-hawking safety? His 11 interceptions over the last two seasons are second-most in the NFL. Whitner won defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil's Play Like a Brown award, but will he make more impact plays in 2015?
Quote to note: "I'm glad they're confident. I'm glad they're making those statements. I'll say last year was last year. I'll say I think we have the potential to definitely be the best secondary in the NFL. We've got to prove it every year. The best secondaries in my opinion are usually playing in January." – Defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil
How many were kept last year? 12