Of all the changes made to the Browns’ roster, few were as significant as those in the team’s cornerbacks room.
This past offseason marked a tidal wave of moves within one of Cleveland’s most vulnerable position groups as new general manager John Dorsey and the front office fundamentally reshaped the unit, turning a weakness into a strength.
In doing so, they signed three notable veterans — former Raiders starter T.J. Carrie, Bills starter E.J. Gaines and Chiefs standout Terrance Mitchell — and used the fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft on Denzel Ward, the All-American from Ohio State. And as the Browns closed offseason workouts last week, there’s a sense that the group — new faces and all — had little difficulty in meshing together.
“From a chemistry standpoint, just getting all of these guys on the same page in terms of what we can do schematically. These guys are pros so they get it,” said defensive backs coach DeWayne Walker. “If we have to come in and do extra work or come in on the weekend and try to catch up on some things, all of these guys are really proactive from that standpoint to try to get them to where we need them by the time we play Pittsburgh.”
That’s the name of the game for a secondary that finished second-to-last in interceptions last season. Cleveland’s back end — which parted ways with previous starters Jason McCourty and Jamar Taylor in the spring — was also beaten time and again by short and intermediate throws underneath coverage assignments. Taking the ball away more (or just being around it in the first place), Walker said, remains a top objective for the Browns cornerbacks.
“We have our little code in our room in terms of how many interceptions do we have, how many PBUs, so we just try to keep track of that on a daily conversation. I just think if you play 16 games, if you can get one pick a game that’s 16 picks,” Walker said.
“So I’m not saying that's easy to do, but that's something we talk about quite a bit. Sixteen is always the goal if you can get one a game.”
Cleveland, at the very least, should have a better chance at accomplishing that mission compared to a year ago. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who enters his second season with the team, said the Browns have added playmakers who are “really, really, really good around the ball” and “have instincts to be around he ball.”
“Guys that you take that aren’t as good as players and you have taken them and ramped them up to their strength on just getting them to fit and do right, their awareness to the ball isn’t as good,” he continued. “We didn’t make as many plays on catching the ball that we had our hands on in the secondary.”
That stands to change. Ward, the rookie, recorded two interceptions and 15 pass breakups at Ohio State last season; Carrie started all 16 games in Oakland in 2017 and had nine PBUs; Gaines has started 36 games in three seasons, totaling three picks and 31 pass breakups; Mitchell posted four picks in Kansas City a year ago.
The Browns believe competition will bring the best out of a new group that, at least on paper, looks poised to make an impact.
“Competition makes us all better. There’s a lot of newness there. That area is probably the one that we are spending a lot of extra time with,” Williams said. “I do think that the competition will be good once we are in camp we are able to play more physical in camp and out of the shorts-type thing that’s going on. It’s a fun group.”