After two of the worst seasons in franchise history, the Browns are enjoying what they hope is something of a renaissance.
But make no mistake: Coach Hue Jackson says his team hasn’t done anything yet.
“We’ve won two football games,” he said, laughing. “We’ve played five last time I checked. We’ve done nothing. Even when we do something, we’ll have done nothing. We have a lot of work to do here.”
After all, Cleveland merely doubled its win total following a 1-31 mark over the past two seasons and has plenty to build on after a 2-2-1 start to this season. At the same time, these new-look Browns — led by a mixture of new and familiar faces such as rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, wide receiver Jarvis Landry, defensive end Myles Garrett and linebacker Christian Kirksey — have given fans something to be excited about for the first time in what feels like forever.
To continue doing that, Jackson stressed, his team will have to keep itself focused. Now, he added, is hardly the time to rest.
“We’re going to keep this team grounded and work in how we go about our business. That is what Cleveland is about – people that work hard earn what they get and get what they earn and keep finding ways to do it every day,” he said.
“That’s just who we’re going to be. I just think that’s the only way to do this. We can’t get caught up in anything else. We’re just going to put our head down, keep working, play the next opponent and go from there.”
— After finishing with a league-worst 13 takeaways last season, the Browns lead the NFL with 15 in five games. Jackson said it’s primarily because of the talent on Cleveland’s defense. “We’re not emphasizing any more than we did last year or the year before. It has always been something that we truly believe in as a staff and as a football team. We just have more guys who are capable making plays to get to the ball,” he said.
“A healthy (DL) Myles Garrett has something to do with that. An emerging Larry Ogunjobi has something to do with that. Those guys have done a good job Year 2 in (defensive coordinator) Coach Gregg Williams’ system. I think all of those things are factored in, but at the end of the day I am going to give all of the credit to the players because I think we have some fine players who are making really good football plays, getting the ball out and taking the ball away.”
— When it was his time to shine, Derrick Willies stepped up. The undrafted rookie wide receiver caught a 39-yard pass from Mayfield in Sunday’s overtime win over the Ravens that set up the team’s winning field goal. Willies, who has played sparingly this season, replaced an injured Rashard Higgins, who left the game with a knee injury. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley hopes Willies’ heroics serve as a tale for other young players grinding and waiting on their opportunities.
“I think he’s a great example for our guys. That if you keep working and keep taking [reps], even all of those reps may be carded offense reps, it’s being noticed and it’s your chance to work on your craft to continue to get better,” Haley said.
“He is a big body that could run. It is hard to look a lot better than he looks. He has come a long way. I was very, very proud of him … if you keep working and you stay ready, when your number gets called that you get a chance to step in and help, just a great example of a guy doing that and making huge plays for us that helped us win.”
— Through five weeks, the Browns run game is first in rushing yards (723) and tied for first in runs of more than 10 or more yards (23) and 20 or more (6). Haley said that dynamic is critical to Cleveland’s offensive success and relieves pressure off Mayfield.
“With a young group, with a young quarterback, if you can win the line of scrimmage and run the ball efficiently and effectively, it is a big, big thing. In this division as the season goes on, I think that becomes a bigger thing,” he said. “You have to be able to run the football when teams know there is probably a good chance that you are going to run it, whether it is weather related, cold or whatever it is.”