With two first team All-Pro awards and four Pro Bowls at age 27, Myles Garrett only has so much more room to grow toward becoming a better edge rusher in the NFL.
He's already the franchise's all-time sack leader, and he's the lone edge rusher in the league to record 16 or more sacks in each of the last two seasons. Over the course of an entire game, opponents have constantly struggled to find a way to stop Garrett, who's failed to record a sack in just 10 of his last 33 games and has finished top 5 in the league in sacks in each of the last three years.
Garrett, however, has full trust in new Browns defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to turn him into an even better player — not by changing anything about his particular game, but by elevating the performances of everyone around him.
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"I don't think his emphasis is to make me a better player," Garrett said. "I know he will with what he's doing and the scheme that he's putting out there for us, but he's out there to make us all a better defense. He's out there to get the most out of us and to make the best defense possible for the players he has out there. I think his scheme will be tuned towards us, especially the guys up front, letting us go out there and hunt."
That last sentence is the biggest key that will determine how much better the Browns defense will be next season — and potentially how much higher Garrett can raise his talent ceiling.
The Browns need more sacks from their front seven after they finished tied for 27th in the league with 34 sacks last season. Nearly half of those came from Garrett, while no edge rusher managed to total more than three sacks.
Under Schwartz, those low outputs aren't likely to repeat themselves. Not under his highly-successful defensive line schemes that he's used in recent defensive coaching stints with the Eagles and Bills, whose defenses became sack machines.
Those schemes have largely featured a technique known as the Wide-9, which spaces defensive linemen a bit further apart from each other than normal schemes. The space allows them more freedom to find ways to zip past offensive linemen, and that should be something that benefits Garrett, who has mastered the ability to move around offensive tackles with his ultra-effective bend.
"I know he's worked with a lot of great players, a lot of great defensive lineman, and gotten the most out of those guys," Garrett said. "He plays wide open, as they say. Just letting guys run free and make plays on the ball."
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The scheme only works, though, if there are other good players in the front seven, too. Otherwise, the extra space only means more time for the quarterback to locate his target or for a running back to spot his hole.
The Browns will surround Garrett this season with new players such as DT Dalvin Tomlinson, a 6-foot-3 and 317-pound behemoth who has been stable in plugging rushing lanes the last six seasons, and DE Ogbo Okoronkwo, who is a breakout-year candidate after totaling five sacks in his last eight games last season with the Texans.
At linebacker, the Browns are largely set to run it back with Anthony Walker, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Sione Takitaki and Jacob Phillips after all four players rarely played together last season due to injuries.
"(Schwartz) has the guys behind us cleaning everything up and making sure they're coming downhill and that we're causing chaos, they're cleaning everything up behind us," Garrett said. "I think that's how it surely functions."
Garrett has only been able to spend three days talking with Schwartz about those schemes since the voluntary offseason program began. He called those interactions "positive" and has liked what he's heard so far, although the work has quite literally just begun.
"We've been talking scheme a little bit, as far as what he expects out of me, where I'm gonna line up and what kind of positions I'll be in on first and second down," he said. "We haven't really talked about third down yet. Just how he's planning to change my playstyle, which from how we've talked, not that much."
That's fine. It's hard to change a player already as great as Garrett, but if he's going to get any better, it's going to come from the whole Browns defense showing growth.
And Garrett believes Schwartz has the blueprint for unlocking that.
"He knows he has some great guys on the back end as well, and he's excited for the opportunity to utilize all of us," he said. "I know he's going to make the most out of the talent he has in the room, and if he does, that will showcase not only my talent, but all of our talents."