Few positions on the Browns roster were overhauled as much as the defensive backs. And the man in charge of the new-look safeties on the Browns defense — Jerod Kruse — has had a busy training camp.
Kruse, who is entering his second year as the Browns assistant defensive backs and safeties coach, is helping his two starting safeties transition to new positions. Sort of.
Jabrill Peppers and Damarious Randall are changing their positions; Peppers played strong safety in college but only has played free safety in the NFL, while Randall played free safety in college but only corner in the league. Kruse has to make sure that both players are ready to go in their reclaimed spots on the field.
"(Peppers) played around the box some last year," Kruse said. "He is down there in that position down in the box a lot more this year. It is just the comfortability of being down there and seeing some of those fits, working a lot with the linebackers in that room and seeing some of the things that they do. He did that all through college so that is a natural thing for him."
It might be natural for Peppers, but the game moves faster than it did in college. At Michigan, Peppers had a knack for his run-stopping ability. But last season, he played up to 25 yards off the ball. Now, he's back where he is comfortable.\
Peppers knows his ability and he knows where he fits. Having Gregg Williams as his defensive coordinator is a luxury for Peppers; Williams puts his players in a spot where they best succeed.
"Very instinctual around the ball," Peppers said of his traits. "We have a lot of great players on the D-line and in the linebacker room who all complement each other very well. Just being around the ball, it just gives you a chance to make more plays, more opportunities."
Randall, meanwhile, was a ball-hawk at Arizona State before he was selected by Green Bay in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. With the Packers, he was able to learn and understand a new position, but he's a safety who was playing corner. Now, he's back where he belongs after being acquired in the Deshone Kizer trade.
"Every day you see him become more comfortable," Kruse said. "He was conditioned to do that for all of those years in college. From the corner position as he is out there, the last several years playing the last several years as a corner, it is just a different look at the play. It is a different angle to the ball. You are out there isolated a lot more. You see him now, he has the ability to see the whole big picture, understanding what the quarterback is doing and playing a chess match with the quarterback."
There looks to be a stark contrast from last season, when the Browns struggled to defend the pass. This season, Randall, Peppers and others, including Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Derrick Kindred, secure a talented — and deep — back end to go alongside Cleveland's daunting front seven.
Kruse applauded Boody-Calhoun's ability to be a "plug-and-play" guy that can play anywhere on the field. Players and coaches alike have raved about Kindred's run-stopping.
"It is a pleasure to have those guys because they give you the ability to be dynamic in your game-planning," Kruse said.