2017 Browns Preview: Defense 

On Sunday, I previewed the Browns offense. Today I’m breaking down the defense.

In 2016, it was arguably the worst defense in the NFL and perhaps the worst in franchise history.

In 2017, with new leadership and a fresh injection of young talent, there’s hope that the Dawg Pound can get rocking again because the new look defense.

A New Leader

Despite Hue Jackson’s claim that he wouldn’t make staff changes, he fired Ray Horton as defensive coordinator in January and brought in longtime defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as his replacement.

Williams has been coaching in the league for 27 years and learning underneath Buddy Ryan, he brings his tough, physical, attacking style to Cleveland after spending three years with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams. 

Any Browns fan needs to go watch the Amazon Prime series All Or Nothing to see what he’s like as a coach. He’s a no non-sense coach who isn’t afraid to tell you like it is. He holds players accountable and that showed early when he told cornerback Joe Haden he would’ve cut him had he not played through his injuries like Haden did last year.

I think this is the type of coach Cleveland has needed on the defensive side of the ball for a long time. He’s seemed to mesh great with Jackson as coaches and I’m excited to see what Williams is going to do with this array of young talent he’s got.

Youth Movement on the Front

When Sashi Brown and Hue Jackson took over this organization and gutted the roster of the overpaid aging veterans, the media criticized them for once again rebuilding.

A year later, it’s looking like the smartest thing they could’ve done. 

This defense has a core group now of young, promising rookies and second year players mixed in with veterans either entering or in their prime that should give the Browns a chance to win some games this season. 

Locking up guys like Christian Kirksey and Jamie Collins to long term contracts to lead the front seven was two of several great offseason moves by the front office. Collins was acquired from New England last October and for a Super Bowl champion to want to stay in Cleveland means that Brown and Jackson are doing something right.

Extending Kirksey who is becoming a promising star in this league was something that needed to be done as previous regimes failed to do with other players who have gone on to make an impact playoff teams.

Then in April’s draft which was heavy on defensive talent, the team with it’s collection of picks cashed in to upgrade the defensive front. They took Myles Garrett who was the consensus best player in the draft with the first pick. Garrett sprained his foot in offseason workouts but should be good to go for camp. 

Garrett brings a dangerous threat on defense that the Browns haven’t had a in a long time. They’ve had guys who can get after the quarterback but no one who’s had that JJ Watt/Von Miller type impact on defense and I think Garrett’s potential is that. His injury history leaves cause for concern but the athletic package he brings should excite Browns fans for the present and future. 

They also added Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley who will be competing with veteran Desmond Bryant to lineup alongside Danny Shelton on that defensive line. 

Add those players along with second year guys Emmanuel Ogbah, Carl Nassib and fourth year pro Jamie Meder who single handledly (literally) helped the Browns win their lone game in 2016, the Browns have depth which is going to be great because barring injuries will keep everyone fresh with rotations.

Secondary still a concern?

Let’s be honest, the Browns secondary was god awful last year. 

Despite Haden being a Pro Bowl alternate and guys like Jamar Taylor and Briean Boddy-Calhoun showing promise, there’s still plenty of question marks. The play from the safety positions was really bad and no offense to guys like Ed Reynolds and Ibraheim Campbell but that was really hard to watch sometimes. 

They added some veterans in Jason McCourty and Calvin Pryor to put a band-aid on the positions for present. McCourty was released by Tennessee as a cap saving move and still has some left in the tank to make a contribution as he can play both corner and safety. 

Pryor will be one to watch. He was acquired from the New York Jets who seem to be doing what the Browns did last year by tanking and gutting the roster. The thing is Pryor is still young  and could’ve still made a leap to be an impact player so I question if he was worth the Browns time and effort. 

Of course I can’t forget the Browns first round pick Jabrill Peppers. The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year is going to be all over the field with the Browns. He’ll mainly be a safety but don’t be surprised to see him line up at linebacker much like Mark Barron did for Williams with the Rams. He’ll likely have a huge role in the return game as special teams coach Chris Tabor was screaming when the Browns drafted him.

Peppers still needs to get his contract done as he is the only member of the team’s draft class unsigned. It’ll be interesting to see what the team exactly does with him once he’s on the field. 

It’s disappointing that fourth round pick Howard Wilson will unfortunately miss most if not all of this season as he recovers from his fractured kneecap that he suffered during rookie minicamp in May. I was looking forward to see what he could do after watching his tape from Houston. 

2017 Outlook

Much like the offense, with young talent you’re going to see some growth but there’ll be growing pains along the way. Having the veterans like Collins, Kirksey, McCourty and Haden will help the rookies with guidance though. 

The Browns were 31st in the league in sacks last season with 26. I expect that number to go up with the additions. Having Garrett on one side and Ogbah on the other, it’s going to be hard to stop them both. Not to mention guys like Shelton and Ogunjobi in the middle and also Collins who can get after the quarterback behind them as well. Expect a greater pass rush this season.

The secondary I think will look better because of the pass rush improving. Having quarterbacks rattled will force them to make throws they are uncomfortable with. If Haden can stay healthy (which has a big if recently), I don’t see why he can’t return to his All-Pro form because it’s not like Haden doesn’t have talent. 

Taylor and Boddy-Calhoun showed flashes last season and hopefully can build upon and continue to show that they can play in this league. 

The safety positions still give me concern but the additions of McCourty and Peppers make me feel better than I did a year ago. Also the returning Derrick Kindred who showed flashes before his injury is another guy to watch.

It still might look ugly, but I think the Browns defense is heading in the right direction.

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