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Cup of Joe: Myles Garrett has always been an explosive pass rusher but now he's playing with more savvy

In his weekly column, Joe Thomas shares his experiences with Garrett and explains why he’s playing at a different level this year

Catch Joe Thomas TONIGHT at 6:30 p.m. when he co-hosts "Browns Live" powered by FirstEnergy with Nathan Zegura. The 100 percent fan-focused show, which will stream on all of the Browns social platforms, will feature multiple segments with Coach Kevin Stefanski, interviews with players, film breakdowns and more.

Each game week, Joe will share his insights, memories and more in this weekly column, "Cup of Joe."

About a month before the 2017 NFL Draft, I checked my Twitter messages and saw a note from Myles Garrett. Mind you, the Browns hadn't yet selected him with the No. 1 overall pick.

I don't remember the specifics about the question but it was something about things I thought were important for him to get ready for the season. Right away that impressed me because very few guys before the draft are thinking about the NFL season and actual football. Most guys before the draft are thinking about how rich their contracts are going to be that they're going to sign. That really said a lot to me right away about who he is and what's important to him, which was really cool.

A few months later, I got my first on-field look at No. 95, and it was pretty amazing.

I was coming off offseason knee surgery, so I wasn't really feeling great just yet but I felt like I'd still be able to whip up on any rookie no problem. And the very first pass that I got against him, it was actually a screen. Well, Myles kind of ruined that thought because he beat me so fast and so cleanly on the line of scrimmage with his speed that I wasn't able to get a hand on him at all. I didn't slow him down whatsoever. He was in the quarterback's lap so fast that he actually sacked the quarterback on a screen play. It was at that moment where I said, "OK, this dude's legit. He's going to be pretty good."

Now, I'm not exactly Joestradamus, but I'm feeling pretty, pretty good about that prediction these days. What's scary is how much better he's gotten since he blew up that screen at my expense.

He's always been a guy that's really powerful and explosive, but he's now a more savvy pass rusher. I see him using his moves to set up other moves. When you see a defensive lineman, like Myles, he'll go bull rush, bull rush, bull rush, and what he's trying to do is get that offensive tackle to lean forward onto his toes to start to sell out to stop that bull rush. Then what Myles will do, which is so smart, is wait for that third-and-long moment — that big moment in the game where he understands, "Hey, I might possibly have a one-on-one block here or a sack that would be a big turning point in the game" — and then he's going to start his pass rush, make it look exactly like a bull rush, get the tackle to lean forward and, as soon as he does that, that's when he's going to go with his counter move. The guy's going to fall to the ground, and then he's able to go around and get the sack.

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Just seeing him play that game within the game — that cat and mouse game with an offensive tackle in his mind — and finding the optimal moments to pull out the counter move that he's been setting up on him is kind of where you see that next level of thinking. That was always what I felt like the elite Pro Bowl, borderline, All-Pro, Hall of Fame guys would do. It was that setup that they would have throughout that whole game. It was like a pitcher setting you up with the fastball to then hit you with the changeup or the curveball at that moment that you needed to strike you out.

Leading up to a game against a great pass rusher like Myles leads to a lot of sleepless nights during the week, a lot of stress. As an offensive lineman, you're judged not by the number of great plays you have in a game, but by the number of mistakes that you make. Playing against a guy like Myles, you could go out there and play really well but if you have 58 out of 60 great plays, the two bad plays you have could directly impact whether your team wins or loses. He's so explosive and so quick that those two plays will likely turn into sacks. And it seems like this year, they'll be sacks and fumbles. Myles has that unique ability to accelerate that very few defensive linemen have. That one bad rep, one loss on a passing play, typically is going to turn into a catastrophic play for the offense.

From what I've seen this season, the Browns have done a great job moving Myles around and giving him even more opportunities to create those catastrophic plays.

A lot of times on third down in those obvious passing situations, they put Myles in over the guard, which eliminates the offensive line's or the offense's ability to chip or jam him. It also gives a huge mismatch for Myles because he's sliding inside and now he's going against a bigger, slower player than he usually plays against. And that guy is not up to the game speed that Myles plays out because he's used to going against defensive tackles on first and second down that are slower and not as athletic as him. He's penetrating so fast and he's beating his man so quickly that even though he's trying to set somebody else up a lot of times with a stunt, he's the one that's getting home. He's become so disruptive and so effective at getting that strip-sack because he is getting in there so clean and can go for the football. For a defensive lineman to be somebody who's getting turnovers for your team, that is so valuable for this defense.

Take it from me. I was hearing from him and seeing him do it before the rest of the NFL.