Browns coach Hue Jackson believes his team is more talented and more experienced than the one that went winless a year ago.
Jackson also believes this group has some of the best leaders he’s had since coming to Cleveland, a dynamic he stressed Wednesday as offseason workouts drew to a close.
“Everybody leads a little different, but I think that we have more leaders on this football team, more now than we’ve ever had, which is a good thing,” Jackson said following the team’s last mandatory minicamp practice. “And we need more. We’ve got to keep developing more guys to step out and let their personality show and play good football for us.”
Following the first winless season in franchise history, the Browns will rely on a group of leaders that include returning standouts and newcomers. This past spring, Cleveland overhauled one of the league’s youngest rosters, trading for veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor, Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry and free safety Damarious Randall among a slew of notable free agents.
The Browns will rely on many of those newcomers, in addition to returning standouts like Joel Bitonio, Christian Kirksey, Jamie Collins, Kevin Zeitler and Duke Johnson Jr. to keep the team together next season.
On offense, Jackson said, it starts with Taylor, a three-year starter in Buffalo who has quickly earned the respect and admiration of teammates on and off the field. “I thought (he) has done a really good job. Jarvis Landry does it by his playing – catching the ball and doing those things for the team. I think (free agent addition and former 49ers running back) Carlos Hyde has been a great surprise for me. But our two guards are as vocal as anybody right now – Kevin Zeitler and (Bitonio). There are more voices, I know that for sure, on offense.”
On defense, Cleveland will continue to lean on Kirksey among other young players starting to come into their own, such as second-year defensive end Myles Garrett and safety Jabrill Peppers.
“(Kirksey) is still the guy. How he’s gone about this offseason has been great. Jabrill Peppers always shows up. He’s very loud. I think that Jabrill loves to talk, and he’s talking about football and dominating, those things. It’s good. Obviously, I think that Myles does it with his play. I think that everybody is counting on Myles to do what he does. He won’t do it probably verbally, but he’s going to do it by action.”
Jackson’s belief in the team’s leadership core underscores what’s been a busy and potentially pivotal offseason. In the coming days, the Browns will break for a brief summer respite before returning for training camp.
That, Jackson said, is when he’ll need his leaders to step up once more on the field and in the locker room.
“It’s refreshing to have veteran players who know how to do it, play in and play out, and understand what the expectation is over a 60-minute game. Just what that's going to be like, just the grind of it, and how on it you have to be every play just to give your team a chance to win,” he said.
“We have more of those guys in the fold, and that's good, but at the same time we haven't played a game so we have yet to see those guys do it in real time.”