Browns’ ‘Work-In-Progress’ Defense Continues To Stymie Deshaun Watson

Browns’ ‘work-in-progress’ defense continues to stymie Deshaun Watson

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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.

Takeaways from Browns training camp Day 9 …

One of the truisms of NFL training camps is defenses generally are ahead of offenses in the beginning. And that certainly continued to be the case as the Browns staged their first practice in front of their fans at CrossCountry Mortgage campus on Tuesday.

Defensive linemen Dalvin Tomlinson and Ogbo Okoronkwo each batted down passes thrown by Deshaun Watson. Myles Garrett continued to terrorize left tackle Jedrick Wills. And rookie cornerback Cameron Mitchell intercepted a Watson pass intended for Amari Cooper.

The good news for the Browns’ offense is it’s early, of course. 

The bad news is coordinator Jim Schwartz believes his defense, which has dominated the offense during the full speed practice periods, is “a work in progress.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said his defense is a 'work in progress.' (TheLandOnDemand)

“We’re not ready yet,” Schwartz said in a state-of-the-defense address. “That’s probably the biggest thing. When the style of defense we play depends so much on playing off of another guy, as opposed to just sort of hunkering down and playing your responsibility. And there’s only really one way to practice that, and that’s full speed. So, we’re still a work in progress. We’re making progress, but it’s something that doesn’t happen overnight.

“We’ve had very limited opportunities and full pads, by plan. But particularly for the young guys, Thursday [in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game] would be a big step for them. We’ll keep it simple for those guys, and we can see where they are right now, but we’re only a couple of weeks in. We’ll use the whole training camp to be ready for the opener.

“We’ve had setbacks, but we want to trend like the S&P 500 where over time we’re making progress. We don’t want to be that cardiac rhythm where we’re up one day and down one day.”

Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt isn’t overly concerned that the Browns’ No. 1 offense has struggled, particularly in red-zone drills, which weren't on display on Tuesday.

“It’s hard down there,” Van Pelt said. “The space is smaller. The open receivers aren’t as open. There are contested catches. There are high balls in the back of the end zone and it’s a good challenge for us.

“We are going to continue to get good at what we do exactly. And then when they play great coverage, it’s hard to win down there in tight spaces. But I told the guys this morning, again, we’re not game-planning against our defense. We’re not trying to change plays to win the drill. We’re going to run our plays and get really good at those. And then remember, ‘Hey, we have running backs. We have things we’re going to down in there not just drop back and throw the ball every time.’”

Plus, Watson will tuck the ball and run in real games. 

Still …?

Welcome back 

Almost 2,000 fans were in attendance for the Browns’ first open practice on their home practice fields. There were no Super Bowl chants, but coaches loved the energy generated by the fans.

“I can promise you the players will get a little bit more pep in their step with our fans out here,” coach Kevin Stefanski said before practice.

Fans saw Stefanski run a two-minute offense period, with Watson commanding one and the quarterbacks who will play in Thursday’s Pro Football Hall of Fame Game – Kellen Mond and Dorian Thompson-Robinson – running the others.

The exercises were intended to end in field-goal attempts so that the placement team had practice in attempting game-winning or game-tying field goals.

Cade York completed each of the drives with field goals from 44, 33 and 41 yards.

York also made 5 of 5 kicks in full-team field-goal practice, the last coming from 53 yards.

From his lips to God’s ears

Like every fan, new special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone hates penalties on kick returns. I mean, he HATES them.

“Penalties in the return game, it’s a lack of execution, a lack of focus,” he said. “Playing undisciplined, bad technique … That’s how penalties come about in the return game. I told our guys it’s a conscious effort to push someone in the back. You guys all watch the game. If you push someone in the back, that’s a conscious effort to do that.”

Ventrone was asked if he were ever penalized as a special teams player. Pro Football Reference lists Ventrone with 708 snap counts on special teams in his eight NFL seasons – four with the Browns.

“In my career, I had three [penalties],” he said. “One was on a punt return, two were in one game against the Colts [a 17-13 Browns loss in 2012]. But I had a broken thumb and I had a cast on and I think the coach told [the officials], ‘Look out for that guy holding.’”

For the record, the Browns were not as bad as you may think under former special teams coordinator Mike Priefer in penalties on special teams.

 After placing 29th in 2020 with 18 penalties, the Browns improved with only 11 in 2021 (tied for ninth), and had 12 in 2022 (tied for ninth). Figures provided by

Brownie bits

Stefanski announced what has been evident throughout the first week of camp – Mond will be the starting quarterback for the Jets game Thursday night and Thompson-Robinson will play the second half ...

Stefanski said no starters will play, but indicated some primary backups, such as RB2 Jerome Ford, will see some action …

More evidence Elijah Moore will be a prominent force on offense: Watson ran a college QB option pitch to Moore, who was lined up in the backfield …

Rookie receiver Cedric Tillman laid out for a diving reception of about 28 yards on a nice throw from Mond in his two-minute period. It was the play of the day …

Ford and return specialist Jakeem Grant returned to the team after attending separate funerals …

Backup left tackle Tyrone Wheatley Jr., who emerged from the second brouhaha in the final practice at The Greenbrier with an apparent injury, participated in individual drills, but not in team action …

Tight ends Harrison Bryant and Jordan Akins were absent from practice …

The Browns signed cornerback Lorenzo Burns, who was an undrafted free agent of the Cardinals in 2021 and most recently played with Birmingham of the USFL.