Joe Woods’ Goal For His Defense: Top Five In Four Main Categories

Defensive coordinator Joe Woods is confident his unit can reach its goal of being in the top 5 of four major categories because 'we're talented enough.' (TheLandOnDemand)

Defensive coordinator Joe Woods is confident his unit can reach its goal of being in the top 5 of four major categories because 'we're talented enough.' (TheLandOnDemand)

Joe Woods’ goal for his defense: Top five in four main categories

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 Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland.

Takeaways from another dog day Browns practice and interviews with the coordinators …

Coordinator Joe Woods hasn’t had his projected starting 11 on the field together any one time, but he was confident in saying, “It’s not a concern. I know we’re talented enough to play good defense.”

When all the parts are available to him, Woods envisions having the resources to field a variety of defenses depending on opponent.

“We have the ability to get really fast and put a bunch of ends on the field and we have a chance to get really big if there’s a team trying to run the ball. Week to week we’ll make that decision. We’ll have different packages in terms of our front four in what we put out there,” he said.

“It can definitely look different. We don’t want to get outside of what we do, but we’ll be able to move the pieces around … create matchups. It’ll look different slightly week to week but it’s all going to be within the concept of our defensive scheme.”

The overall concept of Woods’ scheme?

“Fast and aggressive,” he said. “We want to be able to take away the ball and we really want to dictate the way the game is played. I want to be aggressive with our game-planning, aggressive in terms of getting after the quarterback with blitz packages and not worry about what they’re doing and make them worry about what we’re doing.”

Woods said his goal is to field a top five defense in what he considers the most important categories: points allowed, takeaways, third-down conversion, and red zone.

I asked Woods if he used the analytics-crazed algorithm DVOA, which stands for defense-adjusted value over average, as a measure of defensive success.

“I know we get all that information every week,” he said with a chuckle, “but I trust my eyes on what I see on tape and go from there.”

State of the offense

Coordinator Alex Van Pelt had a lot of praise for the work being put in by receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and gave strong indication the team expects him to be ready for the opener Sept. 12 in Kansas City.

“We’re all hoping for that,” Van Pelt said. “I’m not sure where that’s going right now. He looks really good. He’s running well. He’s coming in and out of breaks. Hopefully we can get him up to it.”

The biggest uncertainty on the offense besides Beckham’s return to full health from ACL surgery is whether he and Baker Mayfield can finally be in synch.

Beckham continued to make progress on Thursday when he appeared for the first time in about five team reps with defenders on the field. On Wednesday, he joined 7-on-7s for the first time and caught a pass against defender in three-quarters speed.

On Thursday, Beckham also worked exclusively with Mayfield on a script of plays in succession.

“The biggest thing is just consistency,” Van Pelt said. “Consistency in route depth, consistency in running techniques. Once the quarterback has that vision of what that looks like, then he can play faster and get the ball out quicker because he knows exactly what’s going to happen. We always preach consistency. Be at the right depth, use the right techniques. Now you can easily pick up the body language and start to build that rapport with the receivers.”

Van Pelt said the work Beckham and Mayfield have put in together in between team periods has been “huge” in building chemistry.

“I go back to the body language, the technique of the route running, the depth, just being in the right place at the right time and having the timing with the quarterback’s feet. You get that ‘on air,’” Van Pelt said. “Obviously, it ramps up in a team setting but if you put in all those reps in practice that muscle memory takes over and you come out on the same page.”

Even with a healthy Beckham joining a better Mayfield than a year ago, the personality of the offense will not change. It’s run the ball and play-action passing.

“That’s who we are, absolutely,” Van Pelt said. “Now, the wrinkles might be different off that, but that’s our foundation.

“It’s all counterpunch and punch. If they’re playing the keepers, then we should be running the football. If they’re playing the run, then we should be keeping and running [play-] action. Choose your poison defensively. But we’re ready. We have the punching ability and the counter-punch ability.”

State of the special teams

Chase McLaughlin is two days from locking up a full-time job as kicker on a playoff-contending team. That’s a big deal to a guy who’s been with eight NFL teams in three years.

The Browns have no other kicker in camp after releasing incumbent Cody Parkey from injured reserve. But special teams coordinator Mike Priefer fell short of saying McLaughlin has earned the job.

“I like Chase. I’m confident in Chase. I don’t make those final decisions. But this will be a big week for him,” Priefer said. “He kicked yesterday, will kick tomorrow and then kick Sunday and we’ll see where we’re at.”

In other words, it’s McLaughlin’s job to lose.

But the Browns showed a year ago they won’t hesitate to make a change even after the final roster cutdown. Last year, they waived Austin Seibert after Game 1 and replaced him with Parkey.

“Last year, Austin did not have a great training camp and then had a poor first game,” Priefer said. “It wasn’t just one game. I think Chase has had an outstanding training camp and if he’s our guy, you don’t want to swap guys out if you can avoid it.”

The return jobs are less certain.

The following players have taken reps in practices and games as kickoff and/or punt returner: JoJo Natson, D’Ernest Johnson, Demetric Felton, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz (when able).

“The No. 1 thing is ball possession,” Priefer said. “We have to give the ball back to the offense. That’s the most important thing we do. The rest of it is a bonus, to be honest. Is there any clear-cut returner right now? I don’t think so.”

This job could come down to whether Natson has any opportunity in the preseason finale in Atlanta to bust a return. If so, it could affect the roster status of somebody else. Otherwise, it appears a combination of Johnson and Felton is in the cards.

Brownie bits

Receiver Rashard Higgins sat out the second half of another steam-bath practice with an ice pack wrapped on his right hamstring …

Cornerback Greedy Williams (groin), safety Grant Delpit (hamstring) and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (stitches in forehead) were the notables still out …

Cornerback Denzel Ward (general soreness) took some team reps for the second day in a row.