Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah said two days before his first ever NFL game he felt as though he wasn't fully caught up to the speed of the NFL. The second-round rookie linebacker, who missed the first five practices while spending time on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, was hoping to receive a heavy chunk of reps Saturday night in Jacksonville to help him catch up.
"I thought I was up to speed when I first came back," he said Thursday, "but there is nothing really like those in-game or in-practice reps to be able to simulate exactly how it feels. I'll probably play a lot come the game, but we will see."
The Browns fulfilled Owusu-Koramoah's request at TIAA Bank Stadium — he was one of the busiest linebackers for the Browns in their first preseason game, and he capitalized on the opportunity to leave a big first impression to his new teammates, coaches and Cleveland, his new home.
Owusu-Koramoah totaled a team-leading eight tackles, one sack and three tackles for a loss and was perhaps the biggest catalyst for the Browns defense in their 23-13 win over the Jaguars. His speed, a trait the Browns believe could make him one of the steals of the draft and a dominant linebacker in Cleveland for years to come, was on full display, and his instincts, which helped him become a rangy and intelligent linebacker at Notre Dame, already appeared sharpened for the NFL level.
"I said in an interview last week that I was going to play a lot, and that's very much what I did," he said with a smile. "I'm glad I got that experience and glad I got those reps to be able to catch up."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Jaguars in week one of the preseason
Owusu-Koramoah didn't take long to make his first big play of the evening.
He stuffed Carlos Hyde for a 1-yard pickup shortly after he entered midway through the second quarter. Two plays later, he delivered a sack to QB Gardner Minshew Jr. after bursting through the line of scrimmage. His speed was fully evident in pass coverage, too, as he made a few impressive tackles following short catches and was able to stick to receivers like glue.
None of it was a surprise for Stefanski, who spent months watching his college tape in anticipation he'd be available for the Browns at some point in the draft. He's seen Owusu-Koramoah bring that speed early in training camp, too, which made his impressive debut less of a surprise and more of an expectation from Stefanski.
"That's what he's done in practice," Stefanski said. "He plays at a very high speed. He's twitchy and he defeats blocks."
When Owusu-Koramoah needed to spend his first days of training camp at home rather than in the facility, he did all he could to ensure he didn't miss too much instruction.
He participated virtually in team meetings and did all he could to simulate walk-throughs from his house. He even used an assortment of fruits and dumbbells to assist in arranging plays, but as he quickly discovered upon his arrival back to the field, the only way to adjust to the speed of the NFL is to garner as many in-person reps as possible.
Even when he returned, Owusu-Koramoah only received a handful of team reps in full pads. The Browns wanted him to acclimate to a similar level as the rest of the players who were present on Day 1. And when the pads came on, he couldn't tackle and finish plays the way he did as a top player for Notre Dame.
That's why he was hoping to play a heavy load of snaps in Jacksonville — not only to catch up, but to take advantage of any moments he could find to show his coaches and teammates that he's ready to be a difference-maker on defense.
"I think of myself as a ball player who knows how to play the game of football," he said Thursday. "It's really just to impress the team, impress the coaches and show that I can contribute in the best way that I can and hopefully earn my spot."
Mission accomplished, although he still believes he has plenty of ground to make up.
He said he's still hoping to adjust his instincts to an even sharper degree to read plays and correctly find his first steps in pass coverage. He wants to grow even better at maneuvering around blocks and pacing sideline to sideline to end plays quickly
"It's just details of the game," he said. "There's a balance to it. It comes with the experience. I want to make sure my drops are 100 percent right and my eyes are 100 percent right. It's really the mental things, especially at the position I'm playing."
He has another two preseason games and another 11 practices to make those adjustments and prove his talent to his new team.
But after game No. 1, he's certainly off to a strong start.