As the Browns stacked wins, reached historic milestones and invigorated the city of Cleveland with their playoff run in 2020, Grant Delpit, their second-round rookie, was in pain.
Delpit, a safety drafted 44th overall by the Browns last year, couldn't be with them. He suffered an Achilles injury less than a week into his first NFL training camp and watched games from the couch. The recovery time from his injury was significant — he couldn't be fully healthy until midway through 2021 — and both his ankle and heart ached as he pictured himself on the field every Sunday with the Browns.
"Some of the most difficult moments were just seeing success and how I wasn't playing," Delpit said Wednesday in a Zoom call with local reporters. "It was a good and a bad feeling. I wanted to be a part of it, but at the same time, we were winning."
Now, Delpit can see the finish line for his recovery.
He expects to be 100 percent by training camp, where he'll have a shot to carve a significant role in the safety room and fulfill the big plans the Browns have always had for him since he was drafted.
"(The ankle) feels better and better every day," he said. "It's a long process, long journey to get fully healthy, but the plan is to be fully healthy by training camp."
Check out exclusive photos of the rookies and coaching staff working during phase 3 of the offseason
That's stellar news for the Browns defense, which added significant upgrades across every position via free agency and the draft and can now expect another upgrade for its secondary. Delpit won the 2019 Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back in his final season at LSU and finished his career with 199 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and eight interceptions.
When the Browns picked Delpit, they believed he could develop into a versatile safety capable of playing across all levels of the defense. Whether he was positioned in the slot, backfield or in the box, Delpit proved with the Tigers he could handle his assignment and make game-changing plays.
Those wrinkles were deeply missed by defensive coordinator Joe Woods last season. Even though Delpit has yet to play his first NFL game, the Browns plan to give him every opportunity to seize just as big of a role they believed he could handle as a rookie. He'll be surrounded by plenty of talent, too, with John Johnson III and Ronnie Harrison Jr., the two most experienced safeties on the roster.
"They drafted me for a reason," Delpit said. "I'll be learning from guys like John and Ronnie and it's going to be great. We're all playmakers, and now it's time for me to see what I can do."
In addition to Delpit, the defense will also include other new faces in Johnson, DEs Jadeveon Clowney and Takkarist McKinley, CB Troy Hill, LBs Anthony Walker and rookie Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, DT Malik Jackson and first-round rookie Greg Newsome II, among others.
The unit will look vastly different from what Delpit originally inherited last season, but the proven talent around him has made Cleveland's defense one of the most intriguing groups to watch in the NFL in 2021.
"Everything (the front office) does is to win," he said. "(Executive VP of Football Operations and GM Andrew Berry) and the coaches put all the right pieces together. It's on the players now to put ourselves in the best position."
The Browns are ready to welcome Delpit back, and Delpit is ready to prove he has the same caliber of talent to succeed with them. That's what he thought every day last year when he had no choice but to watch them win on television, but now Delpit can re-insert himself in their formula for more success in 2021.
"It's crazy how it happened, but I'm glad it happened while I'm young and still have my whole career ahead of me," he said. "It was an eye-opening experience for me, but I've done a lot to come back."