Scott Peters didn't realize how powerful the mechanics of jiu-jitsu were until he was lying on his side, ready to tap out against an opponent nearly half his size.
Peters, the Browns' assistant offensive line coach, was a retired NFL offensive lineman at the time. He took an interest in the mixed martial arts sport in 2006, when a severe ankle injury forced him to leave the NFL four years after he was drafted in the fourth round, as a way to stay in shape and lose weight.
He was still 300 pounds, incredibly strong and confident he could man-handle most fighters who lined up across from him — especially one who was half his size and double his age. That was the description of his opponent for one of his first ever jiu-jitsu practice sessions.
He thought wrong.
A few minutes later, Peters was exhausted, stuck and ready to start his jiu jitsu career 0-1.
"I was just getting my butt kicked," Peters said. "I was being submitted left and right. It was kind of embarrassing."
But Peters didn't quit. After he lost, he was even more curious about the sport, particularly about how someone smaller than him could deliver a beating unlike anything he experienced on a football field.
So he went back for his second session, then a third, then a fourth … and fell in love with jiu-jitsu. The sport, which originated in Japan, focuses on taking an opponent to the ground by controlling their position and using a number of techniques to put them in submission by chokeholds or joint locks.
Peters began practicing the sport just as much as he practiced football, which led to him returning to the NFL as a player from 2008-2009 after using jiu-jitsu mechanics to revitalize his skills.
"If your ego allows you to show up for Day 2, it's a worthwhile endeavor because you start to learn," he said. "It was a little counterintuitive from my football career, when you're trying to be as big, fast and strong as possible and just try to smash guys a little bit harder than they smash us. I was intrigued by it as I started to learn about the mechanics, leverage and even attacking an opponent's physiology."
Peters has used his jiu-jitsu learnings to extend his football career into coaching. He's managed to intertwine the philosophies and mechanics of jiu-jitsu into the techniques of stout offensive line performance, which fascinated 40-year coaching veteran Bill Callahan, who hired Peters when he joined Kevin Stefanski and the Browns' coaching staff in 2020.
Now, the coaching duo has molded one of the best offensive lines in the NFL — and Callahan believes Peters deserve ample credit.
"Scott is a hands expert," Callahan said. "It's really unique in the sense that there aren't a lot of martial artists who can take that type of system into pro football. I think we're unique in that regard, and I think we're fortunate, as well, to have somebody like Scott who can bring a different perspective to line play because he has played offensive line, and he has studied all these different techniques and leverages when he was working as a (jiu-jitsu) wrestler."
Before he accepted Callahan's coaching offer and came to Cleveland, Peters opened one of Arizona's largest MMA gyms, the Lion's Den MMA Academy, in 2008 and trained several UFC competitors, including champions Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez. In 2009, he founded "Tip of the Spear," a program that teaches proprietary technique and training to assist players in avoiding concussions and other serious football-related injuries while improving overall performance.
Now, Peters has climbed his way back to the NFL and has helped form one of the most dominant offensive lines in football. The Browns finished 2020 with the highest-ranked offensive line in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, and guards Joel Bitonio, Wyatt Teller and tackle Jack Conklin were named to All-Pro teams.
They've started 2021 on a similar note, which has helped the Browns open the season with one of the league's best rushing attacks — they rank first with nine rushing touchdowns, 708 rushing yards and 22 rushes of 10 or more yards.
"Coach Peters is awesome," guard Wyatt Teller said. "He's an absolute madman who understands the psychology of leverage, grip and where you need your hands to do certain things. He's talented at what he does, and it comes from his mixed martial arts background."
So what's different about the way Peters coaches?
Peters often lines up against players and shows them technique tweaks rather than simply explaining them. At 42 years old, he's still around a similar weight and strength level as the players on the offensive line, and he wants them to feel the difference between each mechanical change. The tweaks often include feet positioning, elbow posture and proper hand placement once contact is initiated.
"We'll be in cleats, and he'll be in tennis shoes … and he will just get under you and lift your pads in a way that you cannot move," Teller said. "We're the ones slipping all over the place, because in his mind, he's the one that's rooted to the ground."
The concept of "rooting" is perhaps the strongest principle Peters has presented to the group. In the MMA world, rooting means having the ability to keep both feet firmly planted in the ground when being pushed or exerting force on an opponent.
That skill, of course, translates well in the trenches. One of the most crucial things Peters preaches is for his players to have two feet on the ground when they initiate contact. Then, he looks at how each players' legs are bent and whether their foot placement and knee angles maximize their blocking power.
A perfect stance is nearly impossible to replicate play after play, but nothing is impossible in the coaching world of Callahan and Peters, who never hesitate to correct their linemen no matter how successful the play finishes.
"It's about how you can maximize your control and your relationship with the ground so that you can transfer all the force you can generate through the ground," Peters said. "For example, if a guy is running and he hits someone on a pull block and a foot is hanging off the ground, maybe the force he's creating is because he has good acceleration and good speed. He's got a lot of mass to sustain the block, but maybe the other guy has a really good relationship with the ground and he's got better mechanics and leverage, so you don't win that one.
"We're looking for it to be perfect every single time."
That philosophy was one reason why Peters got whooped in his first round of jiu-jitsu against a smaller opponent.
It's also one reason why the Browns have been able to create so much depth in their offensive line since the start of last season.
Chris Hubbard, Blake Hance, Michael Dunn and Nick Harris were among players who filled in a starting capacity last season after injuries and positive COVID-19 tests battered the Browns up front. The offensive line played just eight games in 2020 where all five of its top starters were in the lineup, yet they remained one of the best units in the league.
Peters' tutelage played a partial role in keeping the group strong. When the mechanics of jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts are applied correctly, anyone has a chance against their opponent, no matter size or strength.
Just ask Harris, a 2020 fifth-round pick who garnered attention last year during Week 13 on Sunday Night Football. He replaced Chris Hubbard at right guard following an injury to Hubbard, who was already filling in for Teller after he was ruled out with an injury.
Yet Harris, who is 22 and the smallest lineman on the roster at 6-foot-1 and 293 pounds, performed well and allowed just one hit and one sack.
"To the naked eye, it probably looks like we're just hitting each other all game," he said. "But it's not. It's way more detailed than that, and it's more about how he gives us tools to optimize and use our strengths along with his teachings. There's a lot of different tools he's introduced to us that have been really helpful."
Peters' knowledge has even changed the way some of the top O-Line veterans have viewed certain aspects of their position.
For Bitonio, an eight-year veteran, three-time Pro Bowler and only Browns lineman to make the Pro Bowl last season, Peters has helped him learn how to be more aggressive in pass protection. Those types of plays usually require linemen to back up and prepare for rushers to attempt to run through them — in other words, the lineman is preparing to be passive, not aggressive.
But Peters has encouraged his players to instead be the aggressor. He wants them to step up and attack first if they believe it'll help them win the battle, and he's taught them several hand and arm motions based upon the fundamentals of jiu-jitsu that can help them win that fight.
"For me, I was very much more into seeing what's in front of me and reacting to what's going on," Bitonio said, "but he's allowed me to play a little bit more aggressively. The way Scotty goes about it is that we can sometimes stop a rush before it even gets started. A lot of the strikes and recovery moves he's taught us have come from MMA, body manipulation and how the body works.
"When you do it one way for six or seven years, you're kind of locked into that way, but I've started to slowly learn hand combat and hand-to-hand stuff. It's starting to become second nature, and I'm starting to use it a little bit more in my protections."
The slight changes in philosophy and technique have sprinkled success across the entire offensive line, which hasn't had any glaring weaknesses no matter who is on the field. That's because the principles of jiu-jitsu and MMA are supposed to work against anyone.
Peters learned that the first time he gave the sport a shot — and tapped out.
But instead of that being the end of a short stint in another sport, Peters has managed to turn the experience into a way of revolutionizing another.
"There's a lot of big men and powerful men, but some are just more effective than others," he said. "I think it's about looking at those fine details to ensure you can maximize potential against the best guys in the world."