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OTA Notebook: Za'Darius Smith describes 'great feeling' of joining Browns

Smith outlined the reasons why he’s happy to call the Browns his new home, plus other notes and observations from the second practice of OTAs


Za'Darius Smith hasn't stopped smiling since he arrived in Cleveland to begin a new chapter of his Pro Bowl career.

Acquired in a trade with the Vikings, Smith provided plenty of reasons for his smile Wednesday when he spoke with reporters after the second practice of the Browns' organized team activities. 

He knows the Browns have a talented defense, one that will undoubtedly be better with him in it. He knows Jim Schwartz is a defensive coordinator whose philosophies have helped many defensive linemen produce career-best seasons.

He also knows — in a literal sense — one teammate he'll be playing with: Dalvin Tomlinson.

"I was excited," Smith said when he found out about the trade. "I get the chance to play in a 4-3 system, and that's something I never played in while I've been in the league. I was happy knowing I have a chance to be with Dalvin Tomlinson again and Myles (Garrett), so it's a great feeling."

Smith's energy has been evident in practice. He's constantly chatted and joked with teammates and coaches in between drills and has certainly carried himself like a top veteran on a defensive line that should see significant improvement.

The Browns have loved the vibe Smith has brought so far.

"Za'Darius has been awesome," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "Just having him in the building, he's a ball of energy. He's great around our players, our young players. He practices hard and does a great job when he's in the building, in the weight room, the meeting room and on the field. He brings juice to what we're doing."

Soon enough, the Browns will likely love what Smith produces in games, too.

When healthy, Smith has been a sack machine in three of the last four seasons and is one of just five players in the NFL who has totaled double-digit sacks in three of the last four seasons.

The one season where Smith didn't reach that was in 2021, when injuries limited him to one game. He returned in 2022 and didn't show any rust, totaling 9.5 sacks in the first nine games.

He only managed to record a half-sack the rest of the season, but that was because he was attempting to play through a knee injury that has since healed.

"I had a chance to rest my knee, get some rehab and actually train with my trainer in Orlando," he said. "I've been out here working, and I haven't felt anything. I feel perfectly fine."

In three weeks when mandatory minicamp begins, Smith will have his first taste of what it's like to practice with Tomlinson and Garrett, the duo that — along with Smith — will bear the onus for defensive line improvements.

He won't need to learn much more about Tomlinson, the defensive tackle who played with Smith last season in Minnesota.

"He went to Alabama, and I'm from Alabama, so we have a little bit of chemistry from back home," Smith said. "All in all, he's a great guy. He likes to draw, and he's creative and is a family man. Just being around good people like that helped me become a great guy."

As for Garrett, Smith is not only looking forward to possibly becoming one of the best edge rush duos in the league, but also creating a name for their position group.

"I was telling him, man, like the D-line, we got to come up with a name for the room," he said. "He's like, 'I'm going to get some shirts. We're going to make it big.' So that chemistry, already, I could tell is going to be great this year."

Sure seems like that smile won't go away any time soon for Smith.

Schwartz dons player jersey

One of the most interesting scenes from practice came from defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who wore the walk-through practice jersey of LB Jordan Kunasyzk throughout practice.

Stefanski said the outfit was a way of Schwartz praising Kunaszyk, who played a career-high 15 games for the Browns last year in his fourth NFL season.

"What he's doing is he's telling the players about another player that's doing it the right way, a guy that's doing it how we want it done, that's embodying what we do out on the practice field in the meeting room," Stefanski said. "So Coach Schwartz was a fan of Jordan today. He's a fan of a bunch of guys over the course of these practices, but Jordan's a guy that continues to always do what he's supposed to do, so Coach has given him some love."

Practice notes

- In what will likely remain the case for all offseason and training camp practices, Deshaun Watson took the majority of reps at quarterback. Player attendance in OTAs is voluntary, and the full roster doesn't have to be in Berea until mandatory minicamp begins June 6, but Watson completed multiple passes to Elijah Moore and Donovan Peoples-Jones. Rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson often stood behind the play and conducted mental reps, doing pretend drop-backs and working through visual reads as Watson completed the actual play.

- Practice ended with a seven-on-seven period that featured S Rodney McLeod snagging an interception and WR Marquise Goodwin catching a red-zone touchdown pass from Watson.

- Former Browns LB D'Qwell Jackson watched and aided coaches on the sideline. Stefanski said he's visiting the team this week and giving lessons to players.

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