Za’Darius Smith Has Five Division Titles, The Browns Have None

The new Browns defensive end doesn't list making the playoffs as a team goal. He says win the division should be the No. 1 priority. (TheLandOnDemand)

The new Browns defensive end doesn't list making the playoffs as a team goal. He says win the division should be the No. 1 priority. (TheLandOnDemand)

Za’Darius Smith has five division titles, the Browns have none

You must have an active subscription to read this story.

Click Here to subscribe Now!

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

Leftovers from Browns OTA practice and interviews … 

Za’Darius Smith fills an important role as the pass rush complement to Myles Garrett. But he also brings the much-needed perspective of a player who’s been on five division championship teams.

So it was interesting that when Smith spoke of the Super Bowl as his No. 1 goal, he quickly corrected himself and said, “Well, first of all, win the division.”

The Browns have never won the AFC North division since it was formed in 2002. Browns players in the past speak of making the playoffs. Few ever cite winning the division as an aspiration.

Smith won the AFC North with the Ravens in 2018, the NFC North with the Packers in 2019-21, and the NFC North with the Vikings in 2022.

“That’s where it starts,” Smith said of winning the division and earning a home playoff game. “I feel like if you set goals, you got to start from there. If you don’t win the division, it’s really not a possibility of going to Super Bowl. I’m not just going to say it like that, but it happened that way and that’s something that we need to focus on. A lot of guys don’t focus on that. They just talk about the Super Bowl. But the main goal is to win the division first, be on top and hopefully go to playoffs, get a bye and go from there.”

Since 2002, the Steelers have nine AFC North titles, the Ravens have six and the Bengals have five. The Browns have finished fourth 14 times.

Moore on Watson

New Browns receiver Elijah Moore has gotten a feel for quarterback Deshaun Watson over the last month or so. He was part of the contingent that spent a week in Puerto Rico with Watson.

“He loves football,” Moore said. “That was the first thing … I was probably most excited to see up and close, because I heard all the stories growing up. Watching him in college, seeing all those national games and watching him work and stuff like that. So seeing how much he loves football. We were in the hotel [in Puerto Rico], and he’s in the playbook when we’re chilling on the beach. We just got done working out. We all got work done, and he’s still in the playbook, so seeing how he is with that only gives us more confidence. Like, ‘Okay, let us go look at the playbook one more time.’ I can’t ask for nothing better.”

The Juan and only

Safety Juan Thornhill wore No. 22 with the Kansas City Chiefs, but he didn’t want to negotiate with safety Grant Delpit for the number, so he chose to wear No. 1.

“I just felt like it was just time for a new start and No. 1, it seemed nice,” he said. “There’s a nice catch to it, like the Chosen One. The one any only. So, yeah, that’s why I picked one. And it also carries you in a different way. Like you have to carry yourself when you’re No. 1, because everybody feels like you’re like that guy. And I want to be seen as that, because it just pushes me to be better each and every day.”

Thornhill said he actually feels different wearing No. 1.

“I do, I do. I feel great. When you wear No. 1, you just feel like you got to look nice. You got to play better. I like that feeling,” he said.

Brownie bits

While some Browns veterans chose not to participate in the voluntary OTA practices this week – Myles Garrett, Nick Chubb, David Njoku, Joel Bitonio – it was heartening to coaches to see other veterans coming back from injuries eager to lend assistance to the younger players. These included wide receiver Amari Cooper, linebacker Anthony Walker and linebacker Sione Takitaki. “To be able to talk to a young player who -- as you can imagine, their heads are swimming at times right now -- so to put your arm around a young receiver and tell them about alignments, tell them about their assignment, their technique, that type of thing. When it comes from an Amari or Sione, I think it means a little bit more,” coach Kevin Stefanski said …

Alignments in OTAs give insight on what the coaches’ initial thoughts are based on last season and the early portion of the offseason program. Some alignment sightings: Tackle Maurice Hurst was on the No. 1 defensive line in team drills. Drew Forbes filled in for Bitonio at left guard. Nick Harris was the No. 2 center. Greg Newsome was the No. 1 slot cornerback. With Garrett absent, Smith and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo were the starting defensive ends …

Tight end Jordan Akins was a teammate of Watson’s for three seasons in Houston. He was asked what we should expect from Watson when all the rust is knocked off this year. “Great rhythm throws. Deep ball throws. He’s great at that,” Akins said. “The defense, he’s really good at it. He can read defenses, pick apart defenses. Whether we get the mismatches, he’ll find the mismatches. And also, whenever he seemed like he’s surrounded, he’s going down, some way he pops out. So you’ve got to stay on your feet, stay moving downfield and be ready to make a play at all times.”