Q&A Part 2 (continued)
Whenever the opposition needed a big play on offense last season against the Browns, they knew they could get it through the air. It was almost an automatic.
In actuality, that has been the case the last three seasons – Cleveland secondaries have surrendered a combined 11,692 yards and 98 touchdowns via the forward pass.
It is a weakness immediately discovered by General Manager John Dorsey after taking over midway through last season. There was a dearth of talent in the backend of the defense and he quickly and methodically addressed it.
So how much of a difference will the new faces make or is it just cosmetic?
Eight of the 14 defensive backs on the roster at the conclusion of last season are gone. Dorsey has replaced them via trade, free agency or drafting with young veterans and a stud rookie. As a result, the secondary this season will look almost entirely different.
In what way?
Second-year safety Jabrill Peppers is the lone returning starter, but this year, fans will find him playing much closer to the line of scrimmage as strong safety rather than in a different zip code as he did last season at free safety.
Peppers’ game is creating havoc and sure tackling. He had little opportunity to do either last season as defensive coordinator Gregg Williams stationed him anywhere from 30 to 40 yards off the ball. It robbed him of utilizing his greatest strengths.
What about the other three positions back there?
One of Dorsey’s goals – maybe his main goal – was to tighten up the backfield, give the front seven more time to get up close and personal with opposing quarterbacks, working in tandem to slice into those embarrassing figures of the last three seasons.
To that end, he brought in cornerbacks T. J. Carrie, Terrance Mitchell and E. J. Gaines, drafted corners Denzel Ward and Simeon Thomas and traded for Damarious Randall, switching him from corner to free safety, his natural position.
Briean-Boddy Calhoun, Justin Currie, Derron Smith, Mike Jordan and Derrick Kindred return from last season and will find making the final roster much more challenging.
Dorsey wasn’t just throwing darts at a board hoping to hit a few bull’s-eyes. In less than four months, he has ostensibly turned the Browns’ biggest weakness into a budding strength.
It was quite obvious he targeted the secondary when he made Ward, the Cleveland-area kid (Nordonia High School) and Ohio State All-America, the team’s second draft selection (No. 4 overall) after quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Ward was one of the nation’s premier press corners with the Buckeyes, and the main reason Dorsey selected him over defensive end Bradley Chubb in the draft to the surprise of many draft gurus.
So assuming Ward starts, who plays opposite him?
Right now, the depth chart at the other corner is flexible with a trio of five-year veterans battling for playing time. Carrie is the prohibitive favorite with Gaines and Mitchell offering his greatest challenges.
It is conceivable all three make the final roster with Williams favoring many sub packages. And Boddy-Calhoun, whose aggressive style won him points last season, might survive.
How much of a difference will there be at safety?
Plenty with Randall now playing his more natural position at free safety after working his first three seasons in Green Bay at cornerback. In 30 starts with the Packers, he swiped 10 passes, four last season. That figure would have led the Browns, who totaled only seven picks. That is not a typo.
Peppers, meanwhile, will be allowed to be the player the Browns believed they drafted last season, often playing tight to the line of scrimmage as a box safety and blitzing off the edge.
When breaking down why the Browns were winless last season, one doesn’t have to dive too deeply to discover the Cleveland secondary was one of the main culprits, helping sustain opposition drives by failing to get off the field on third down.
With ball hawks like Randall, Peppers and Ward, that will change. It’s a virtual certainty the Browns’ interception total in 2018 will be significantly higher than last season’s disappointing number.
So how would one paint the overall defensive picture?
With a lot more optimism if only because the run defense vastly improved last season and should get better this season and because it can’t get any worse in the secondary than last season’s random strafing.
Next: Special teams and the coaching.