Steve Wilks scheduled his coaching interviews with a purpose. The Browns were first for a reason.
“I scheduled this first because it’s where I wanted to be,” Cleveland’s new defensive coordinator said during his introductory press conference in Berea. “I had some (other) opportunities, but this is the first place I wanted to come.”
Wilks has no direct ties to general manager John Dorsey or coach Freddie Kitchens beyond the inevitable overlap that all NFL personnel share within its intimate fraternity. That is to say, he didn’t land in Cleveland to reunite with old friends. He chose the Browns because he believes in what Dorsey and Kitchens are building.
In Baker Mayfield, the Browns have a young, cost-controlled franchise quarterback who not only proved he can execute Kitchens’ game plans, but flashes the charisma necessary to rally all three units behind him. An “alpha male,” Wilks called him.
Myles Garrett is the foundational quarterback-disrupter that can anchor a defense. Wilks said Garrett’s next step is to become an All-Pro player by improving Garrett’s consistency, which is in lockstep with how Garrett explained his path forward after being named to the Pro Bowl.
“I think that he has the traits and the ability to be a dominant player at this level,” Wilks said of Garrett.
Denzel Ward, like Garrett, made the Pro Bowl in 2018, becoming the first Browns rookie to do so since Joe Thomas in 2007. That’s exciting, especially because Wilks believes Ward still has so much to learn. Few coaches are better equipped than Wilks to guide Ward through his development. Wilks has coached defensive backs for 15 of his 24 years as a coach, developing the likes of Charles “Peanut” Tillman and Josh Norman along the way.
Mayfield, Garrett, Ward, Jabrill Peppers, Joe Schobert, Damarious Randall, Genard Avery, Larry Ogunjobi. Every player mentioned above is 26 or younger with a bright future ahead of him. The Browns will add to that list in 2019 with their bevy of draft picks and cap space.
That’s why Dorsey was so confident about the attractiveness of his coaching opening. And Wilks proved Dorsey right by making the Browns his top priority during his coaching free agency.
“When you look at personnel and their direction, and with the things that Dorsey is doing and his crew, it was a no-brainer,” Wilks said. “I cannot ask for a better situation. When you are looking at the opportunities that I had out there, I wanted to be here and I am glad that things worked out."