Greg Newsome II only needed to play in two preseason games to feel as though he belongs in the NFL.
Newsome, the Browns' first-round rookie cornerback, has never wavered in confidence since he arrived in Cleveland and expressed his belief that he could emerge as a shutdown corner for years to come. He also acknowledged, though, that he wasn't there yet. He needed practice reps against Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and other top receivers on the Browns' opponents to get there, and he knew it would take time and effort.
Those wishes have been granted over the last month.
Newsome has been one of the most heavily used cornerbacks in both practice and preseason games, and he's confident he'll be able to prove his talents at the NFL level in his rookie season.
"Going into the second week, I was like, 'OK, I know I belong,'" Newsome said Wednesday. "I know I still have to change some things, but I'll be ready."
Check out exclusive photos from Wednesday's practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus
The confidence primarily stemmed in the first week of the preseason in Jacksonville, when Newsome unexpectedly played against Marvin Jones, a 10-year veteran receiver.
Newsome didn't expect the Jaguars to play their top playmakers in the first preseason game but was ready for the challenge if he were wrong. Sure enough, he was positioned across from No. 11 on the first play of the game. Jones recorded 978 receiving yards and nine touchdowns with the Lions last season and was one of the most desirable free-agent receivers in the offseason.
Now, he was lined up against a player taking his first NFL snaps.
"When I saw him out there, (I knew) it was definitely going to be fun," Newsome said.
His prediction was right.
Even though it only lasted a few series, Newsome vs. Jones was one of the most notable battles to watch. Jones caught three passes for 52 yards, including a tightly-contested 35-yard grab where Newsome nearly stripped the ball away. Three plays later on third-and-8, Jones caught a 7-yard pass but couldn't get the first down after Newsome wrapped his legs and brought him down with an impressive solo tackle.
That's how battles between top corners and receivers normally go. Newsome certainly looked the part.
"I think Greg had a nice night," head coach Kevin Stefanski said after the game. "It was the first time out there for him. You have to remember the butterflies, the anxiety and that first time under lights, and now, they get that out of the way and hopefully can play a little bit freer in the next one."
Stefanski's prediction was right, too.
Unlike the Jaguars, the Giants didn't play their starters, so the competition wasn't nearly as tough as his first game. Newsome, though, still performed well and recorded two tackles. He also played a few snaps at the slot position, a spot the Browns are slowly helping him learn.
"Things just happen fast," Newsome said. "That was my first time playing nickel in a game, really. I haven't even played it in college a lot, but it was definitely fun. I enjoy new challenges. Whatever Coach needs me to do Week 1, then I'll do it."
Newsome was lauded Monday by Stefanski for "not making the same mistake twice." He's had his rookie errors, but Stefanski has noticed that Newsome is a quick learner. Newsome didn't allow many big plays in training camp as a result, and he's been one of the top Browns secondary players so far in the preseason — although it's worth noting the Browns have rested most of their top defensive players to this point.
Newsome has taken advantage of that, however, and is making the most of his heavy workload.
"It's just having discipline and trusting your coaches to put you in the right position to succeed," he said. "The biggest thing, from a new coaching staff to new players, is to earn trust, and if you can do the things they say, they'll trust you."
The Browns knew they'd be able to trust Newsome sooner rather than later when they drafted him 26th overall in the draft. They knew he belonged in the NFL, and they were ready to give Newsome the reps and opportunities so he'd know it, too.
Now, that mission is over. Newsome is ready for whatever role the Browns give him, and he's confident he'll succeed.