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Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah continues to 'set the bar high' as role in Browns defense expands

Owusu-Koramoah has been graded as one of the best rookies in the NFL, but that hasn’t stopped him from being his own harshest critic

Not all linebackers are able to start their careers the way Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah has.

Through four games, the second-round rookie is tied for third on the Browns defense with 17 tackles and is tied for first with three passes defensed. Pro Football Focus graded him highest among all rookies through Week 4, and his speed, one of the defining traits the Browns valued in him when they traded up seven spots to claim him 52nd overall, has been evident in every game.

But when Owusu-Koramoah was asked Wednesday if he believed he's playing well, he didn't necessarily agree.

"I don't know how to define 'well,'" he said with a smile. "I still have things to work on and am still looking for things to correct — smaller details and things. Am I playing well? Not necessarily in my eyes. I could do better."

For the last two weeks, the Notre Dame product has been one of the Browns' top defensive players and one of the best rookies in the league. His 10 tackles in the last two weeks are second on the Browns only to All-Pro DE Myles Garrett, and his playmaking abilities and instincts have enabled him to stop plays at the line of scrimmage and stand out among several other veteran playmakers on the defense.

Owusu-Koramoah, though, is hardly satisfied. He doesn't forget about missed tackles or mistakes in pass coverage, and his response to one question about a missed tackle on the opening kickoff back in Week 1 highlighted that mentality.

"That stuck with me," he said. "I was really sick about that. I don't really hold too much on the past, but I'm always trying to correct those mistakes. That's what I've been trying to do every week."

Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Los Angeles Chargers

The Browns have rewarded Owusu-Koramoah for his progress. He went from playing less than 40 percent of the defensive snaps in the first two games to playing above 50 percent in the last two — and that number likely will continue to rise as the year unfolds.

That's because the Browns defense has been better when he's on the field. He didn't tally a tackle for a loss last Sunday in Minnesota, but several of his tackles were made possible by his closing speed and ability to maneuver around blockers to make plays.

On one third-and-22 play late in the third quarter, he shut down a Vikings rushing attempt for a gain of 1 yard even though he was 8 yards past the line of scrimmage when RB Alexander Mattison received the hand-off. Sure, the play was highly unlikely to go for a first down, but the short gain revealed how quick he can to shut down plays at any level of the field.

"The more snaps I get, the more knowledgeable I become of the game," he said. "The more I play on the field, the more (the coaches) are looking to do with me. I'm just following in their footsteps. Hopefully as time goes on, I will have more of a bigger role."

Stefanski confirmed Wednesday that his role is indeed expanding as a reward for how well he's played. His playstyle works well in a defense that brings a consistent pass rush presence and forces quarterbacks to get rid of the ball quickly, which is precisely what the Browns have done in their last two games.

"It's expanding because he's earning that role," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "He's competing. The more you show our coaches what you can do, the more that we're going to ask you to do. His role will continue to grow."

Even as his snap count grows and he continues to produce, Owusu-Koramoah will always be hyper-critical of his play. That, too, is one reason why he's proven to be a quick learner in his jump from college to the pros, and it's one aspect of Owusu-Koramoah that will never go away no matter how many downs he plays or how many plays he makes.

"I think you've got to be hard on yourself," he said. "You've got to be your biggest critic to be able to continue to climb. If I think too highly of myself, one day I might go out there and do something I don't want to do, so I always set the bar high in my mind."

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