Jadeveon Clowney believes the Browns defense will be even better than a year ago, and it's hard to disagree with him.
One reason why? Well, Clowney is still on the roster — the eighth-year defensive end veteran re-signed with the Browns in May, and his return gave the Browns a chance to run it back with eight of the 11 other starting defensive players from last season.
The Browns ranked fifth in the league in total defense a year ago, and Clowney became a destructive force once the group clicked in the second half of the season. He registered 5.5 of his nine total sacks from the year in his last three games, and that number could be even higher if he didn't miss Weeks 14-15 due to being placed on the COVID-19 list.
Now, Clowney is ready to pick things up again with the same group, one that held opponents to no more than 26 points in the last seven games of 2021.
"We get along well. We've got a good group," Clowney said on the final day of mandatory minicamp on June 16. "We've got a very young team. I'm one of the oldest ones here, and it's weird saying that, but it's a young team, and we have a lot of fun together."
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Clowney has been warmly embraced by his teammates since he returned to the roster, and that was evident in his interview as multiple players playfully jumped into the scrum to ask him a question.
D'Ernest Johnson asked him what goals he had for 2022. Clowney said he wanted more sacks and tackles for a loss. Amari Cooper stepped in a few seconds later and asked if he would come to his birthday party. Clowney chuckled and said he would if he didn't have a football camp on the same day. Then, Anthony Walker stood behind media members and made a funny face at him.
"The guy behind you, I already know how he feels and what he likes to do," Clowney said with a smile. "That makes it easy on myself. I can look back there, and I don't even have to ask. I know what he's about to do."
Clowney was referring to the on-field chemistry the defense built last season, which was one huge reason why he wanted to return to Cleveland. He knows where the linebackers' gap assignments are on each play, and he knows he has another one-man wrecking ball on the other side of the line in Myles Garrett.
Chemistry for them means being able to decide on certain plays and situations which end of the line they want to take. Those decisions are based on how well one of them is doing over the other and which guy is facing more double-teams.
If that seems like a headache for opposing offenses to game plan around, it is — Garrett achieved a franchise-record 16 sacks last season, and Clowney's nine sacks were his highest since 2018. Their 25 sacks were the highest combined total by Browns teammates since 1984.
"We just work out what's going on and how the team attacks us," Garrett said. "(We find) where they're weak, or they want to help this guy a lot or don't want to help him. Who's having more success for what guy? It's that kind of communication."
Clowney believes he and Garrett could play at an even higher level in Year 2.
"We fed off each other," he said. "We're going to come out and do the same thing this year, and even better after our first year. We know each other like that, and we've got a good thing going from last year. We'll try to keep it going."
In between them, the Browns will be welcoming in two new starters. Both defensive tackle positions are up for grabs and could be the only two spots on defense showcasing two new starters. They'll likely belong to two young players, as well — the oldest of the tackles on the roster is Sheldon Day, who's 27.
Whoever wins the battles should have a much easier time adjusting to the competition in front of them with Clowney on one side and Garrett on another. Double-teams will be a rarity in the interior, so if the Browns can discover two strong, forceful men up the middle, the whole D-line should be able to produce.
"(Garrett and I) don't take plays off," Clowney said. "When they see how we work, they'll just pick up off that, which they do pretty well now. "
The pieces for the defense have already come together. Clowney's re-signing was one of them.
Now, they just have to build. The group overcame that challenge midway through last season, and Clowney believes the continuity will help the unit finish that work even sooner this year.
That should lead to less opposing points, more wins and, hopefully, some hardware.
"We've got to chase that Super Bowl," he said. "I'm not here to win eight, nine games. I want to chase the Super Bowl. I think we've got a shot. Just keep putting it together. Keep going."