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Joe Woods believes increase of nickel, dime can help Browns 'dictate the tempo'

Joe Woods never opted to make any excuses when it came to the Browns defense last season.

Whenever injuries arose, Woods put faith and accountability in whoever was next on the depth chart. When his unit surrendered too many big plays to an opponent, he didn't make attempts to swat the blame. He always acknowledged and took ownership of the defense's mistakes, no matter the circumstance.

So when it comes to the versatility Woods hoped to have in his schemes — particularly, his preferences toward using nickel and dime packages and how little the Browns could use them last season — Woods' approach didn't change.

"Last year, there were a whole lot of things you can say, but we have the mindset of no excuses and no explanations," Woods said last week at the conclusion of minicamp. "Week in and week out, we try to find a way to win. Just based on practice time and players available, there were certain things that we were not able to get to."

Check out exclusive photos of minicamp

Woods is partially alluding to how the Browns ran just 16 dime snaps last season, a number he previously referred to in April in an interview with Cleveland Browns Daily. For comparison, he said he ran 400 snaps in previous roles as a defensive play-caller over his decade of coaching.

The Browns couldn't reach that number following season-ending injuries to 2020 second-round pick S Grant Delpit and CB Greedy Williams, two players Woods hoped would give the Browns the depth they needed for a secondary strong enough to thrive in nickel and dime sets. But their injuries, with the addition of four games missed from CB Denzel Ward and other injuries to the secondary, created constant changes to the depth chart that made it tough for Woods to fully open the playbook.

Now, with an even deeper secondary, Woods believes the defense will come much closer to matching his desired total of DB-heavy packages.

"Dime package is a big part of what I was involved in in (former NFL defensive coordinator) Wade Phillips' system in Denver," Woods said. "You're always trying to put yourself in a position where you have favorable matchups. When we go dime, we're putting more cover guys on the field, and we're putting more speed on the field."

Cleveland's secondary is loaded with talent, and Woods wants to maximize it with nickel and dime packages. Nickel places five defensive backs on the field; dime requires six.

At safety, John Johnson III, Ronnie Harrison Jr. and Delpit are all capable of handling a heavy load of snaps each game. The cornerback room has new additions in Troy Hill and 2021 first-round pick Greg Newsome II and returning players in Ward and Williams, and all of them figure to be key contributors every gameday, too.

That's seven starting-caliber defensive backs, which is similar to the mark Woods had as a defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator with the Broncos from 2015-2018. Woods coached the defensive backs when the Broncos heavily used nickel and dime sets en route to winning Super Bowl 50 in 2015, and he's hoping to replicate a similar feel to the Browns defense in 2021.

"It probably will not be as much as I ran in Denver," Woods said, "but it will definitely be a lot more [than last year], especially on third down and maybe two-minute situations."

That's one of several reasons why Woods fully expects the defense to see significant growth this season.

And with the current pieces in place, there won't be any need for Woods to fend off possible excuses — not if the schemes Woods has in place for his revamped defense go to plan and help the Browns dominate.

"We've already started the process in the offseason of installing some new defensive packages and some new cover schemes, just so we can dictate the tempo a little bit more," he said.

"We're excited about the future and can't wait to get training camp going."