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Training Camp

Zegura's Deep Dive: Analyzing the defense after 9 days of training camp

Defensive Ends: This may be the deepest position on the Browns roster, and general manager John Dorsey will have some tough decisions when it comes to making the 53-man roster. Myles Garrett has been the best player on defense throughout camp. Garrett has consistently gotten to the quarterback, destroyed run plays in the backfield and gotten his hands on passes that have directly led to interceptions. It will be fun to watch him terrorize other teams beginning Sept. 9. Emmanuel Ogbah is fully healthy and is poised to start opposite Garrett. He has been one of the best defensive ends in the NFL against the run and is looking to break out as a pass rusher with teams focused on Garrett. This duo is off to an excellent start and should anchor the Browns defensive front. Free agent signing Chris Smith has shown excellent speed around the corner and the versatility to also rush from the interior of the line. Carl Nassib has bulked up this offseason, and his new strength has been evident in camp. Nassib has flashed both in the pass game with pressures/sacks and against the run with penetration that has blown up multiple running plays. Chad Thomas, the 67th pick in this year's NFL Draft, has missed most of camp after undergoing hernia surgery. The team is expecting the rookie to contribute as a rotational player who can excel against the run and the hope is that he will be back to full participation soon. Former second-round pick Nate Orchard is fighting to make the team this year, as he enters his fourth NFL season. Orchard has had some nice flashes and big hits in run defense, but has struggled to generate much pressure as a pass rusher thus far. For a deep sleeper, no one helped their cause in the scrimmage more than Marcell Frazier, an undrafted free agent out of Missouri. Frazier single-handedly blew up two goal line plays for sacks in the Friday evening scrimmage.

Defensive Tackles: The interior of the defensive line is the one place where the Browns do not have many household names, but they do have some blue-collar workers. Trevon Coley led the Browns D-Line in snaps played last year and has been a force against the run throughout camp. Coley focused on pass rushing a lot this offseason and if the start of camp is any indication, it has paid off. Thus far, Coley has shown the ability to penetrate up the middle and get after the quarterback, which is a key piece of the Gregg Williams defense. Coley is currently nursing an ankle injury. Larry Ogunjobi was the Browns' most effective interior pass rusher as a rookie and has picked up where he left off. Ogunjobi is the best one-gap penetrator of the Browns tackles, and the coaches definitely think he could be a breakout player this season. His first-team reps have increased as camp has gone on, and Ogunjobi credits offseason workouts with new "mentor" Geno Atkins for his improved technique. Jamie Meder embodies the hard-working mentality of Northeast Ohio better than anyone on the roster because it is truly in his blood. Defensive line coach Clyde Simmons said Meder is playing the nose just the way he wants, which won't lead to a lot of glamour, but it is an important role. Meder was immovable in the middle of the defense in two live goal line periods, which were dominated by the defense. Caleb Brantley worked very hard on his body this offseason. Brantley continues to flash as both a pass rusher and a run stopper but will have to become more consistent to take his game to the next level and maximize his talent. Jeremy Faulk received first-team repetitions in the scrimmage with Coley out and was able to generate some pass rush, while also clogging the middle against the run. He absolutely took advantage of that opportunity and has made the tackle group much more interesting for Dorsey.

The Browns held practice Saturday afternoon.

Linebackers: This is the most talented position group on the team and might be one of the most talented linebacking corps in the NFL. Joe Schobert went to the Pro Bowl in his first season ever playing middle linebacker at any level and is "light years" ahead of where he was a year ago, linebackers coach Blake Williams said. Schobert worked diligently on his body in the offseason and has made plays every single day in camp. In the scrimmage, Schobert had multiple sacks and multiple tackles for loss as he quarterbacked the first-team defense to two straight three-and-outs as well as another dominant goal line period. Williams said Schobert "might be the most intelligent player" he has ever coached. In only his second year at the position, Schobert has become an extra coach on the field. Christian Kirksey played every snap last year and has finished in the top five in the NFL in tackles in each of the last two seasons. Kirksey has taken on even more of a leadership role this year, which has been evident in camp, especially near the goal line. Former All-Pro Jamie Collins has been worked back slowly during camp but is rounding into form. He is the takeaway king of the Browns' linebackers and showed it in the scrimmage with a diving interception on a tipped ball. Mychal Kendricks joined the Browns fresh off a Siuper Bowl championship with the Eagles. Ever since the pads have come on, he has stood out with his speed, physicality and knack for making huge hits for losses on run plays. Kendricks has been just as impressive off the field with his leadership, work ethic and championship pedigree. Look for defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to employ some nickel schemes to get all four of these talented players on the field at the same time. There is plenty of depth behind the top four in this room as well. James Burgess filled in very well for Collins a year ago and has shown the ability to play all three spots during camp. Burgess is great at knifing in to make tackles for loss and is a good blitzer. Genard Avery has been nursing a groin injury the last few days, but is expected back soon. He made a strong impression on coaches and teammates in the first week of training camp and could have the chance to play more than people think in his rookie year. Avery has the biggest legs of anyone in camp, and that power has made him an immediately effective pass rusher in his first ever training camp. He will be a core special teams player, but could also help the defense as a situational pass rusher and thumper in the run game. Justin Currie is a converted safety who worked his way up to second-team middle linebacker in camp. His natural coverage skills as a former defensive back have helped him shine in pass coverage situations but coaches have been more impressed with his physicality in the run game. B.J. Bello (who was with the Browns all of last year), Brady Sheldon and Jermaine Grace have all flashed excellent speed during camp. Sheldon has unusual size and speed for a LB at 6-foot-5 and has flashed the ability to rush the passer as well as cover. Paring down this room looks like a very tough chore for Dorsey, and the linebackers are expected to anchor the Browns defense in 2018.

Cornerbacks: The fourth overall pick Denzel Ward has been as good as advertised in Browns camp. His natural cover abilities, including change of direction, ability to mirror, and then break on the ball have been on full display. Ward has not backed down from Jarvis Landry. Those two have had some epic battles in the one-on-one's. Ward looks like a true No. 1 corner in the NFL, and if that look becomes a reality, the Browns defense will be significantly better for it. No defensive back has had a better camp than Terrance "Money" Mitchell. A known ball hawk, Mitchell recorded four interceptions with the Chiefs last year. He has two interceptions and multiple PBUs in team periods thus far and has ascended to the starting role opposite Ward. Briean Boddy-Calhoun has been working with the first team as the slot corner, a position he manned for the Browns last year. He has also been taking some second-team reps at free safety and has had a very solid start to camp both as a cover corner and against the run, where he has a knack for knifing into the backfield as a run blitzer. T.J. Carrie began training camp with the first team defense, but has fallen behind Mitchell. Carrie, himself, has said that his performance thus far has not been up to his standards and there is plenty of time for the big free agent signing to get back in his groove. E.J. Gaines is pushing for the starting slot role and is a natural in coverage. After the top five, there are three other corners who have stood out and will compete to make this 53-man roster. Sixth-round pick Simeon Thomas is the tallest defensive back on the team and has demonstrated an ability to play press man very well with his long arms. In the red zone, he has broken up multiple passes. It seems like no one is going to get a fade or jump ball throw in over him. Veteran Mike Jordan was with Williams in Los Angeles in 2016 and then with the Browns last year. He knows the playbook and his responsibilities very well, and the coaches know he is very reliable. Denzel Rice has NFL experience, most recently with Houston in 2016. and has been singled out by coaches as one of the nicest surprises of the offseason. Rice has looked very comfortable in the slot and has shown the ability to get his hands on the football. This room has been completely overhauled, with Boddy-Calhoun and Jordan being the only corners who played for the Browns in 2017.

Safeties: Damarious Randall was brought to the Browns to play centerfield and take the ball away like he did in Green Bay. So far, Randall looks to be right at home in the free safety spot, a position he has not played since his college days at Arizona State. Randall has multiple interceptions in team periods, and the coaches have been thrilled with the stability and play-making he has brought to the back end of this defense. Last year's first-round, Jabrill Peppers, is competing with Derrick Kindred for the strong safety job. Peppers missed the first four days of camp with a minor injury but has come back with a vengeance. Playing closer to the line of scrimmage, where Peppers is much more comfortable, has led to some big plays, including a massive hit for a loss in the live goal line period last Thursday. Peppers looks to be playing much faster now that he is back in a position that suits his skill set. Kindred has worked with the first team throughout camp and continues to show his prowess as a run-stopper and blitzer. For Kindred, the biggest question remains his coverage skills, but he has been working tirelessly to improve them. This is a battle that will likely go all camp long, and Peppers will be working in with the starters more and more going forward. Behind the top three safeties, the Browns have a nice mix of veterans and younger players hungry to make the team. Boddy-Calhoun has received extensive reps as the second-team free safety, as has veteran Derron Smith. Smith joined the Browns last year and is primarily known for his special teams prowess. Undrafted free agent Elijah Campbell has impressed coaches with his play speed and natural feel at the free safety position. He is definitely an under-the-radar player to monitor. Undrafted free agents Montrel Meander and Micah Hannemann have flashed good in-the-box physicality at strong safety.

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