Safety Grant Delpit believes he'll be fully ready for training camp after rehabbing a ruptured right Achilles tendon his entire rookie season. (Cleveland Browns)
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
Takeaways from Grant Delpit Zoom call …
I think I was the only person in the media watching Grant Delpit when his right Achilles tendon ruptured on Aug. 24, the ninth day of his first Browns training camp.
He reminded me in stature of the last great Browns safety, Eric Turner, Bill Belichick’s first draft pick in 1991 from UCLA, No. 2 overall. Delpit is an inch taller and a few pounds heavier.
I imagined Delpit developing into an NFL defensive player-of-the-year candidate, which Turner was in his fourth NFL season when he led the league with nine interceptions – one for a 93-yard Pick 6 – and hit with a force that befitted his nickname, E-Rock, on Belichick’s No. 1-ranked defense in 1994.
Delpit was backpedaling in a defensive back drill, reacting to the signals of assistant defensive backs coach Brandon Lynch. I didn’t hear a “pop,” but it looked to me like Delpit heard it as he collapsed to the ground.
“I thought I ran into somebody behind me,” Delpit said Wednesday on a Zoom call. “I thought it was like a golf cart, or something, it hurt so bad. [Linebacker] Jacob Phillips was walking by and I was like, ‘That was you?’ He was like, ‘No,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, OK, I kind of know what it is now.’ It is only one pain in that area. It sucked, but I picked up quickly on what it was.”
Delpit had surgery on Aug. 31, so the nine-month anniversary arrives on Memorial Day.
“It feels good,” Delpit said. “Better every day. It is a long process, a long journey to get fully back healthy, but the plan is to be fully healthy by training camp. I am on track for that.
“This injury is like nothing I have had before. I never thought about my Achilles and what it is used for until I hurt it. It is an eye-opening experience for me. I have done a lot to come back in rehab and just do all of that right now. I am doing sprints, cutting and all of that. Just on the back end of my rehab now and just trying to get rid of that annoying pain. It is coming along, and I should be ready by training camp. It is a crazy injury. It is crazy how it happened, but I am glad it happened, I guess, while I am young so I can still have my whole career ahead of me.”
The hardest part
Delpit said the turning point of his recovery came in late March when he reached 18 mph on a treadmill training in Florida.
“That is when I was like, ‘OK, I am feeling like myself again. Let’s do it,’” he said.
The truth is, the physical rehab was a relative breeze compared to the mental rehab.
“Some of the most difficult moments were just seeing the success [of the team] and how I was not playing,” Delpit said. “It was a good and a bad feeling at the same time. I wanted to be a part of it, but at the same time, we were winning. I hope I can be a part of it this year.”
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods had big plans for Delpit. The coach was going to assimilate Delpit into a three-safety look with veterans Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo. In that trio, Delpit would have been a chess piece – lining up in various spots to befuddle quarterbacks’ pre-snap reads.
Woods had to scrap that plan when Delpit went down. But while Delpit rehabbed his injury, he was able to soak up the mental reps of Woods’ defense and attend meetings throughout his rookie season.
“I do not consider myself a rookie anymore,” he said. “Definitely a Year 2 player. I got to sit back and really study a lot of film and see what happens behind the scenes.”
A whole new look
When Delpit is cleared to practice in training camp, Woods will have a revamped, three-safety alignment, which he expects to deploy up to 40 percent of the time.
Joseph departed in free agency and Sendejo was not invited back. In their places are former Los Angeles Ram John Johnson III, the Browns’ prized free-agent acquisition of the transaction season, and Ronnie Harrison, who was acquired from Jacksonville in September and was a revelation in seven starts as a 6-3, 214-pound thumper with ball skills (47-yard Pick 6).
The Browns view the skill-sets of these three safeties as interchangeable, meaning any could play deep, any could play in the tackle box and any could cover the slot receiver.
Whether Woods views these roles as interchangeable from play-to-play or series-to-series remains to be seen. But it is palpable that the safeties figure prominently in Woods’ scheme.
“Safety is probably one of the biggest roles on any defense,” Delpit said. “Just having the things like we do where we could rotate, three, two or whatever. It is going to be great for us to have versatility, show different looks and all that Coach Woods has in place. I am excited to get on the field.”