The Cleveland Browns offensive line looks like a team strength heading into the 2017 season, but don’t sleep on the men in the trenches on the other side of the ball.
Although their defensive line is relatively inexperienced, and the starters aren’t yet set, Sashi Brown and Hue Jackson have collected a crop of highly drafted linemen who project to fit nicely in Gregg Williams’ new defensive scheme. The operative word there is project, because what may look good on paper does not always transfer to the playing field on Sundays.
One of projections of that group is No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett. While it’s clear he fits the physical and athletic molds needed to excel, he still has to do it in live NFL games before we’re sure he’ll be the difference maker Brown and Williams expect.
The team posted this sneak peak of Garrett in action on Twitter during OTAs on Tuesday. Garrett is displayed nearly ripping off the arm of a trainer – who’s probably questioning his career choice – before he progresses through the drill:
But if he does emerge as it’s hoped, and if second-year man Emmanuel Ogbah develops into his book-end, a guy who can rush the passer and set the edge to contain opposing rushing games, there’s a good chance their defensive line ends up being one of the surprises of the team’s 2017 season. It’s a new scheme, though, and we’re not exactly sure how everything’s going to work once pads go on and competition begins.
It’s a good group, we think, and no one really knows what to expect, or expects the young group to quickly look like what it can potentially become.
One underrated piece is somewhat forgotten man Desmond Bryant. Largely because of his size, the 6-foot-6, 311-pound defensive tackle was brought to Cleveland to play defensive end before its switch to a 3-4 front in 2013. But that front’s history now, and Williams will be running a base defense with four down linemen.
Bryant, 31, is on the downswing of his career and coming off a missed season that he lost after a weight-lifting injury last summer. He recently told Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal that “doctors literally had to re-attach” his pectoral muscle after he tore it lifting weights last summer. He’s also playing in the final year of a five-year deal, and probably not long for Cleveland as the team rebuilds with a younger and hand-picked nucleus.
He said he thinks he’ll play inside in Williams’ front four, per Ulrich, but not to rule out him moving outside in certain situations. That’s a good thing, because what he does do really well is create interior pressure, and Cleveland absolutely needs a proven and productive player to fill that role in 2017. Rookie tackles Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley will see playing time in that spot, and they do project well there, but the key to the defensive line’s season may be the experienced Bryant’s return to form.
It’s all pretty uncertain, and there’ll likely be some growing pains, but the Browns defensive line is a unit to watch this year as Williams attempts to revamp the team’s porous run defense he inherited from his predecessors.