First look: Defensive ends
Simply put, the main goals for the respective coordinators of a football team are to (a) protect the quarterback and (b) make certain opposing quarterbacks are as uncomfortable as humanly possible.
It has been established here that the Browns have improved markedly in the first department. It’s the other one that needs to step it up to keep pace, at least on paper.
There is absolutely no question the Browns’ pass rush is overly dependent on the performance of one dynamic young man. Myles Garrett is clearly the best – and most important – player on a defense loaded with question marks. Therein lies the problem.
When Garrett is on the field, bad things happen to opposing quarterbacks. (And I’m not thinking Mason Rudolph.) He alone makes the Cleveland pass rush downright dangerous. But he needs more help.
Last season, Garrett played 10 games – the Browns were 4-6 in those games – before sitting out the final six serving a suspension. And the Browns’ pass rush just about disappeared. No one stepped up.
It registered 30 sacks in those 10 games, a clip that would have landed them near the 50-sack plateau. Garrett had 10 of them, a sack-a-game pace. In his absence, the rush collected just eight more, four in one game and a pathetic one in the final three games.
Olivier Vernon, acquired with Odell Beckham Jr. in the deal with the New York Giants, was expected to take the heat off Garrett, but missed six games with a knee injury and contributed just 3½ sacks. He has now missed 15 games in the last three seasons.
The Browns believed they were getting one of the steady pass rushers in the NFL. Instead, it appears they traded for someone who has become an injury waiting to happen.
As insurance, the Browns signed nine-year veteran Adrian Clayborn, a situational edge rusher clearly on the downside of his career, to a two-year contract. You’ll see him only in passing situations.
Then there is Chad Thomas, the club’s third-round choice in the 2018 draft who has not come even close to becoming a difference maker. The 6-5, 280 pounder saw some action in Garrett’s absence last season and tallied four sacks after a rookie season that saw him tethered to the bench.
So who is going to step up and become Garrett’s partner in crime in opposing backfields? Or will he remain a solo act anxiously looking for a partner in an effort to get rid of the double and triple teams with which he frequently has to deal?
Could it be Vernon? Can he stay healthy enough long enough to finally justify the trade? Maybe Thomas? Perhaps a diamond in the rough if given the opportunity? Inquiring minds . . . aw, never mind.
It’s going to be Garrett and your guess is as good as mine. And he will play every game this season, if there is a season. having learned a valuable lesson with regard to better handling his temper.
Three others in camp realistically have no shot at making the final roster: Rookie Jeffrey Whatley, second-year man Charles McCray and Porter Gustin, who played sparingly last season.
Next: Defensive tackles