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Greg Newsome II earns starting job for NFL debut with dogged work ethic

1st-round rookie impressed his coaches, teammates throughout training camp

Greg Newsome II set the goal and achieved it. 

Anthony Walker expected nothing less of his rookie teammate — and it only had a little to do with the alma mater (Northwestern) they share.

Newsome, Cleveland's first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, was told Tuesday he'll be starting at cornerback when the Browns open the season Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. It was the end result of a preseason in which Newsome seemingly got better with each practice, each meeting, each day he dedicated to showing the Browns they made the right selection with the No. 26 pick.

"Obviously being from Northwestern, I wasn't expecting anything differently," Walker said with a smile before Wednesday's practice at the CrossCountry Mortgage Campus. "We have some great coaches there, great NFL development going on over there. 

"The way he came in, the way he studies, the way he prepares, the way he takes what he learns from the meeting room to practice is huge. Just a guy you can tell loves the game of football."

Newsome's ascent to his starting role wasn't preconceived. He was tasked with earning the spot, and it didn't come easily, as his top competition for the job, Greedy Williams, had a similarly strong training camp before suffering a groin injury in the Browns' second preseason game against the Giants.

Newsome, though, still had to earn the job in the final weeks of the preseason. He started each of the team's three preseason games and posted one of the biggest highlights of training camp when he intercepted Giants QB Daniel Jones during a two-minute drill at the end of the teams' first joint practice. Both Newsome and Williams were essentially first-team defensive players manning the two outside cornerback spots throughout the preseason while Denzel Ward recovered from soreness.

On Tuesday, Browns defensive backs coach/pass game coordinator Jeff Howard broke the news to Newsome and Williams. On Wednesday, Newsome was honored as the Browns' winner of the Maurice Bassett Award, which goes annually to the team's top performing rookie at training camp.

"I've been here a very long time working hard," Newsome said. "There's been some ups and there's been some downs but I'm just trying to get 1 percent better every single day and it would lead me to success ultimately.

"It's been fun, it's been a lot of work, but we're finally getting to the real action."

Newsome made it clear earning the job is just the beginning. He has to prove he belongs every week, and his first challenge Sunday won't be forgiving against a Kansas City offense that has largely had its way with every defense in the NFL over the past few years.

"What a way to start off your rookie season," Newsome said. "I'm definitely super excited to have the opportunity to play a team like that."

The Browns are excited to see how Newsome contributes to a defense that will feature numerous new faces compared to when the Browns and Chiefs met in January for the AFC Divisional Round of the playoffs. What they already knew about Newsome and what's unfolded since he arrived in Cleveland leads his coaches and teammates to believe he'll handle himself well Sunday and beyond.

"He has done everything that we have asked him to do," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "He has practiced every day. Made a mistake and corrected it. I just see a player who has continued to take each one of these days and try to get better."