Questions seeking answers Part 2
The defense . . .
An oversight before delving into the better side of the football for the Browns this season . . .
Missed the tight ends entirely when previously looking at the offense. And that is an important part of said offense that will be key in both aspects of its execution.
David Njoku, Darren Fells and Seth DeValve provide a wide variety of specific abilities at a position that has been lacking for that talent for many seasons.
Many observers of the National Football League are quick to recognize Njoku as one of the promising young group of tight ends this season even though he caught only 32 passes last season as a rookie for just 386 yards and four touchdowns.
They like his size (6-4, 250 chiseled pounds) and athleticism and believe he can flourish with the reliable Tyrod Taylor at quarterback more so than with the unpredictable DeShone Kizer, his fellow rookie, last season. He balanced his low reception numbers with improved blocking.
DeValve, second to running back Duke Johnson Jr. in receptions, caught one more pass and had 11 more receiving yards than Njoku, but scored only once and probably won’t see as much playing time this season.
That’s because of Fells, a 6-7, 280-pounder who will provide most of the grunt work in the blocking game. His one job is to block. In his previous four NFL seasons, he was targeted only 84 times. He makes a perfect target for Taylor inside the 10-yard line.
One of the reasons the ground game failed last season was lack of an effective blocking tight end. That is why General Manager John Dorsey signed Fells as a free agent. He will make a significant difference.
Now the defense . . .
The defense presented a better pass rush than the previous season. How much better can it get in 2018?
A whole lot better now that Emmanuel Ogbah has recovered from his season-ending broken foot last season and can team up with Myles Garrett, who sparkled when healthy as a rookie, at defensive end.
Garrett and Ogbah played 11 games each, but played together in only five games last season, Garrett racking up three of his seven overall sacks with Ogbah, who tallied two of his four with Garrett in the same lineup.
Overall, the Browns improved their sack total from a paltry 26 in 2016 to 34 last season. If these 6-4, 275-pound pass-rushing specialists can stay healthy all season, there is no telling what 2018’s sack total will be.
On the bubble at end are Nate Orchard and Carl Nassib, who excelled at creating havoc in the pocket in college but have failed to make a successful transition to the NFL. It wouldn’t surprise if both are playing elsewhere this season with veteran free agent pickup Chris Smith and rookie draft pick Chad Thomas pushing them out
What aboutd the interior on the defensive line? The run defense made major strides last season.
It sure did. After being bruised for 2,283 yards in the ground (143 a game) in 2016, Gregg Williams’ defense surrendered only 1,566 yards (99 a game) last season. They permitted 100 yards or more in 12 games in 2016 and halved that total last season.
One of the reasons was strong performances at tackle from youngsters like Jamie Meder and Trevon Coley and rookies Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley. Underachieving Danny Shelton was shipped to New England. Addition by subtraction.
The linebackers were major contributors to that run stat.
They certainly were, especially Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert, who surprised just about everyone last season by thriving after successfully moving inside at middle linebacker. Both men finished in the league’s top 10 in tackling. All of which makes this season’s linebacker story line worth watching.
Easily the best overall unit on the club last season, it got even stronger with the free- agent signing of Mychal Kendricks, return from injury of Jamie Collins and drafting of Genard Avery.
Add to the cast James Burgess, who filled in more than capably when Collins went down early last season. He finished fourth on the team in total tackles. This is clearly an area that should excel.
The only problem – if one can call it that – is Williams has so much talent there, it will be interesting to see how he uses it without griping from those who might see as much of the field as last season.
If you are searching for a weakness in the linebackers, you’ll find it in pass coverage. Tight ends and running backs have hammered the Browns the last two seasons in the passing game, a red flag that needs to be addressed in training camp.
Next: Strengthening the weakest area: The secondary.