Grant Delpit fixated his eyes on Texans quarterback Davis Mills and sprinted as fast as he could past the line of scrimmage.
He only needed Mills to hang onto the football for two seconds to grab his first NFL sack. For Delpit, a 2020 second-round pick who missed all of his rookie season with an Achilles injury, the chase felt more like an hours-long wait.
Delpit received his wish.
Mills never saw him coming, so Delpit delivered a thunderous sack and forced the ball loose. The Texans recovered the ball, but Delpit had done his job and recorded his first sack of his NFL career to help the Browns stay ahead late in their 31-21 win over the Texans on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
"It felt like forever to me, to be honest," Delpit said Monday about the play in a Zoom call with local reporters. "You feel like you're moving slow, but in reality, you get back there pretty fast. I should've gotten the ball myself. I didn't even know the ball was out, but it was a great play."
Delpit's sack and overall performance Sunday — five tackles, one sack, one tackle for a loss and one quarterback hit — sent a strong message about his readiness to be a defensive playmaker in his first full season with the Browns. His versatility, developed over three strong seasons at LSU, allows the defense to put their other playmakers in better spots to make game-changing plays.
Now, after a 19-game wait, the Browns are finally seeing the effects of Delpit's presence.
"I thought that was great," Stefanski said after the game. "It was good to see him get some reps, playing to make a big play when we needed it. I thought he did a nice job. We will have to grow that role as we go."
That's been the plan all along for Delpit, who knew before the Browns' Week 1 game in Kansas City he'd likely make his debut in Week 2. The end of a long, dark tunnel full of rehab work and watching games rather than playing in them was finally near, and there's no doubt that his patience and wait to return to full health paid off.
Delpit said he felt no added pressure to prove he was rust-free after going nearly two years without playing in a real football game. He felt no nerves at all, actually, and trusted his skills and strength to carry him against a Texans offense that tested the Browns at multiple points of Sunday's 10-point win.
"(Defensive coordinator) Coach (Joe) Woods asked me if I was nervous," Delpit said. "I said 'No.' If you're nervous, that means you're scared. I was prepared, and things worked out for us."
Stefanski said the Browns kept Delpit on a "pitch count" to avoid pushing him too hard as he continues to acclimate to NFL speed. Delpit was on the field for 26 defensive snaps and 13 special teams snaps and certainly made the most of his time, finishing third on the Browns in tackles and allowing defensive coordinator Joe Woods to experiment with the dime formation, where six defensive backs are on the field at once.
Expect that formation to play a bigger role in the defense's plans moving forward. Woods has previously expressed interest in using it to allow his deep group of defensive backs to be on the field at once and keep the opponent guessing at which coverages they're in.
That confusion leads to game-changing outcomes similar to Delpit's sack.
"That was a hell of a hit," defensive end Myles Garrett said. "I see him coming off free and thinking this is going to be ESPN Top 10, and he laid a hit on him and made his presence known."
The Browns will continue to ease Delpit back into more of a full-time role moving forward, but there's no need to rush. John Johnson III and Ronnie Harrison Jr. are in the safety room, too, and provide the defense with plenty of experience as they continue to grow and mesh several new playmakers together.
Delpit is one of them. The Browns believe more big plays are ahead for the 23-year-old, who is still one of the top cornerstones for the defense.
They believe his future is bright, and after his debut Sunday, it's hard to argue against it.
"By and large, he was where he was supposed to be," Stefanski said. "Was it perfect? No, but that is his first NFL football game. A really good effort for his first time out there."
Check out the best photos from the Browns win over the Texans yesterday by the Browns photo team