The story of how Porter Gustin made the 2020 Browns and, ultimately, a significant impact in the team's win over the Bengals is a simple one.
He just kept making plays.
In the weeks leading up to the season, Gustin proved he was more than just a midseason depth addition from the previous season, when the Browns were decimated on the defensive line. He played with confidence and purpose throughout training camp and earned plenty of snaps with the first-team defense while Myles Garrett dealt with minor injuries. That got him a spot on the 53-man roster.
That same mindset and energy got him the on-field results he's craved ever since he went undrafted out of Southern Cal.
With injuries sidelining Olivier Vernon and Adrian Clayborn, Gustin took on a major role in last week's victory over the Bengals. Over a whopping 63 snaps, Gustin applied plenty of pressure on Joe Burrow and almost collected his first sack of the season (a penalty wiped it out). It was an encouraging moment for a player who has had to fight for everything ever since his final college snap.
"With Porter you know you are going to get an honest day's work," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Monday. "Effort is there from whistle the whistle, snap to whistle, I should say. He is a very diligent worker. He is going to be where he is supposed to be.
"He just kept making plays every chance he was out there, and I think it is starting to show up a little bit in these games."
Check out exclusive photos from Monday's practice in Berea
Though Gustin had impressive moments during the 2019 season — he collected his first NFL sack in his first NFL game — he considered 2020 a "fresh start." He had a new coaching staff evaluating him, a new playbook to digest and a full offseason with the same organization. It was a far cry from a rookie year that featured a training camp with the Saints and a variety of tryouts with other teams before he landed with the Browns midway through the season.
"Last year, coming in halfway, there were guys injured and I was learning a completely new defense and there were six games left. It was a different feel," Gustin said. "It was a completely different feel. Starting out fresh, starting off throughout camp, being able to earn the trust of my teammates or the coaches and be able to work my way into the rotation and kind of show these coaches what I have and what I have to offer so in that way, it is different."
Gustin's biggest opportunity presented itself while Garrett was sidelined first with a hamstring issue and then with a wrist injury during the first part of training camp. That allowed Gustin to work alongside the rest of the starting defensive line and show he could hold his own with the top unit.
Gustin was a regular playmaker during those weeks, essentially forcing his way onto the roster in the same way he forced his way into the backfield.
"It certainly gave me confidence going against the ones coming out there and knowing that it is a new coaching staff and they have not really seen what you can do or been able to evaluate you in a practice setting," Gustin said. "Going out there, you give it your all, and when you get an opportunity to go with the ones, you have to make plays. You just have to. It is what you have to do in this league to stay here and to earn a spot."
It was earned, and now Gustin is doing everything he can to maintain it.
"Anything can happen in this league," Gustin said. "Somebody could get hurt and go down just like what happened on Thursday and you are the next man up. Anything can happen. You have to be prepared and be ready to take on anything."