New Browns defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will shift the emphasis of the team's defense from the secondary to the defensive front. (TheLandOnDemand)
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz gives insight into the new-look Browns defense
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.
Takeaways from Browns OTA practice and interviews …
It’s been 4 ½ months since Jim Schwartz was introduced as Browns defensive coordinator. In that time, GM Andrew Berry rebuilt the defensive line with seven new players. He added three in the secondary, but hardly changed the linebacker position group.
Schwartz declines to acknowledge his influence in Berry’s transactions, but there is no doubt that Berry has leaned on Schwartz’s judgments to reshape and transform a defense that woefully underperformed in 2022.
Schwartz’s first media availability since his introduction revealed some insight of what we can expect in the Browns’ defense in 2023.
Waves of four-man defensive fronts
“I’m really happy with the guys up front,” Schwartz said. “The additions they’ve made, I think they fit us really well. I think we got a lot of interchangeable spots. We’ll play a lot of guys up front, right? We’re not just going to play four guys. We’ll roll through eight, maybe even nine guys at times, trying to keep guys fresh and keep them throwing 100 mph fastballs.
"You guys will get tired of my baseball analogies. A lot of D-line is a lot like throwing relief in major leagues now, right? Like these guys coming in from the pen, throwing 100, 101. I watched that guy from the Guardians last night and the guy from the Orioles last night. Both of them are throwing over 100 [mph]. Unless you’re Nolan Ryan, you can’t do that stuff for seven, eight innings. And same thing with D-line. The tempo that we want those guys to play, we want to need to rotate fresh troops in. Offensive lines don’t sub, but we can. We can keep the pressure on those guys and we can play to a high standard with that depth. And that’s an important part of what we do.”
“You’ll probably see five guys in pass rush a lot of times,” Schwartz said. “We’ll probably have five of them out there. We’ll drop a guy [into coverage] occasionally, but we’ll play some down-five stuff, and that all goes back to the corners that we have. And it’s hard to play five-down if your corners aren’t any good. We’ve got good corners, and we’re going to rely on those guys, too. So it’s all part of the pass rush.”
Greg Newsome and Denzel Ward both playing nickel (slot) cornerback
“It’s probably not going to be rotating guys within a game,” Schwartz said. “But what you might see, depending on the matchup, you might see different players playing nickel in different games. A bigger guy that plays more physical, we might have one guy in there. A small, shifty, quick guy, we might have somebody else in there. There’s the way we play our coverage. There’s a lot of carryover between corner and nickel. It’s not its own specific position, so I think it’ll make us compartmentalize and be able to move guys around a little bit more.”
Ward got a lot of reps inside at Wednesday’s practice.
“Oh, yeah. So you can definitely expect me inside, outside, wherever, so just trying to be anywhere I can to make plays and help this team out,” Ward said.
Newsome and M.J. Emerson will compete for the No. 2 cornerback spot
Schwartz wouldn’t say who his No. 2 cornerback is right now.
“We don’t have a depth chart right now,” Schwartz said. “We’re going to compete. We’re going to chart everything we can, and we’re going to play the guys that give us the best chance to win and that fit the best in the positions and everything else. But, yeah, it’s way too early to talk about depth charts or who’s leading and stuff like that. Everybody here is competing against themselves, first and foremost.”
He’s OK with the virtually unchanged linebacker group
“Yeah, I mean, it’s a good returning group,” Schwartz said. “There’s a lot of different types of players there that we can use a lot of different ways, guys that have a lot of experience in the league and they’ve been very well coached. [Linebackers coach] Jason Tarver is an outstanding coach. So all those things all, sort of, combine to be what you’ve seen.”
Expect to see a lot of three-safety looks with Rodney McLeod joining Grant Delpit and Juan Thornhill
“There’s going to come a lot of times where we play three safeties on the field and [McLeod’s] a part of that,” Schwartz said. “How that happens, I don’t know. Whether it’s Grant Delpit going down low and playing like a dime position or Grant staying deep and a guy like Rodney going down. We value flexibility in those players. We value multidimensional skills.
"Right now, they’re all playing all the positions. But again, by the end of training camp, we’ll sort of get a feel for where we are and what our best matchups are, and we’ll go with that. But whether it’s first and second down or third down, the league is trending toward more wide receivers on the field, more tight ends that are really wide receivers. You need people that can neutralize those guys. You need guys that can cover these tough-matchup running backs, these tough-matchup tight ends, and they can play in the box, play deep, play man. And I think our safeties fit that.”
Schwartz couldn’t say what percentage of snaps would feature three safeties.
“It’s going to depend on the game and things like that,” he said. “It’s definitely a package, that as we get going–we don’t really run it right now, but in training camp, you’ll see a significant amount. How much we play, it’ll depend on if it’s our best matchup and who we’re playing and all those things. But our job in training camp is to get ready for all those different situations. And again, you can’t play three-safety packages with sort of one-trick ponies. Your guys have to be flexible, have to have some multidimensional skills.”
Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt was awed by a Deshaun Watson bullett pass through the eye of the needle to Elijah Moore running a seam route to the end zone. “He’s improved tenfold since this time last year,” Van Pelt said. “He made a throw today … the hair stood up on my arm. He dotted a touchdown in the red zone that was really an impressive throw. That degree of difficulty would have been high and he smoked it. And I’ve been around some good ones, but that was one I literally got goosebumps. I was like, ‘Wow, that was a tremendous throw and catch.” …
Not to overstate it, but for an OTA practice in May it was quite spirited. Particularly competitive was a 7-on-7 period near the goal line at the end. The No. 1 defense three times denied the No. 1 offense from scoring. The final three plays pitted the third teams. With the first-team defense chanting “do-nut,” the offense was denied twice before Dorian Thompson-Robinson squeezed in a bullet pass to undrafted tight end Thomas Greaney just over the goal line …
Linebacker Jacob Phillips, who was leading the Browns in tackles last year before a season-ending torn pectoral muscle injury in Game 7, had an interception off a deflection on a Watson pass for Donovan Peoples-Jones …
Man, there isn’t a cornerback on the Browns’ roster that Marquise Goodwin can’t run past. Goodwin, a former Olympian long jumper, is 32. “I think I’m pretty much in my prime, so I don’t think I lost any speed. It’s kind of like fine wine. You just get better with time,” Goodwin said. Ward said, “I didn’t even know he’s . So for you to say that, yeah, he’s fast, … for that age … he’s a burner.” …
Schwartz declined to say whether he was disappointed that Myles Garrett has missed most of the voluntary OTAs. “Those questions aren’t for me. You know, he’ll be here and he’ll be ready when the time comes.”