Last Friday, we talked about the impending face-off between Hall of Fame left tackle Joe Thomas and defensive end Myles Garrett, the team’s first overall pick. On Day 6 of Cleveland Browns training camp, fans finally got their wish, and they did not disappoint.
Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith visited practice on Wednesday as a guest of head coach Hue Jackson, which coincided with the fact that Garrett was with the starting defense for the first time this camp. Since the Browns had an off day Tuesday, that meant everyone was available to practice — including Thomas. Game On.
When the two first squared off, Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer noted that Garrett certainly wasn’t dominating every play, like he had been doing against rookie offensive tackle Roderick Johnson.
#Browns Myles Garrett faced Joe Thomas for 1st time & didn't blow past him the way he's been doing to rookie Rod Johnson. School in session— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) August 2, 2017
From the sounds of things, Thomas and Garrett went up against each other 5-6 times during 11-on-11 drills. While the veteran had the upper hand for the first several plays, on their last encounter, everyone was talking about Garrett whizzing right by him:
Now, if we’re seriously trying to break down the play, I don’t know if you can really say that Thomas was beat. Garrett gets a wide rush with no chip from the tight end, so he has a head of steam going. But because this is a running back screen pass to Garrett’s side, the play is presumably designed to where Thomas wants to bait his defender to get around the edge. By the time the quarterback delivers the quick screen pass, if the defensive end has vacated the area, then the running back should be open with other blockers in front. That’s what happened here.
With that said, the speed to which Garrett got to QB Cody Kessler was impressive, and even though Thomas lets Garrett have the edge, I don’t think he quite wanted to let him get to the spot that he did as quickly as he did -- to the point where you’d even risk your quarterback hitting the turf (which Kessler did after some light contact).
After practice, Garrett talked briefly with reporters about his encounters with Thomas. Per Dan Labbe of Cleveland.com, here’s what he said:
“I think I beat him on the last rush. But there was a rush where I tried to ‘bull [rush]’ and he started to slow me down. Then, Bitonio came and basically stopped me in my tracks. I heard Joe whisper to me, ‘nice try.’ That’s going against one of the world’s best. You’re going to get better each day by doing that.”
In Jackson’s post-practice press conference, he was asked about Garrett’s promotion to the first-team defense. He acknowledged that they didn’t plan for today to be the day that Thomas and Garrett finally went at it; it just so happened that everything lined up that way.
“It is time. As I said the other day, you can only keep guys down so long. You just start watching every day, and when you see what he is doing, he is doing a good job. I didn’t really just watch the individual battle – I will watch it on tape a little bit more – but I am sure those guys had a conversation. If anybody can give him some good instruction on what they have seen through the years it is going to be Joe, and then it is good for Joe to go against somebody with that kind of explosion and that kind of speed and quickness. ...
He has earned it. I can only keep him down there for so long. You have to start pushing him up. He is doing a good job. He is earning it. That is what we feel. We feel like every day when we watch the tape, you keep watching him get better and better and better and better. He is in better shape, he understands our system better and he knows exactly what to do so he is starting to play a lot better.”
As noted earlier, Smith was a guest of Jackson’s during practice, and Jackson said that it was a co-incidence that his arrival matched up with Garrett’s promotion. As for having Smith as his guest, Jackson loved it:
“It is awesome. I was with Bruce at the Washington Redskins. I was coaching on the staff when he was there. I have always had a personal relationship with him. He has a relationship with Myles. I thought it was important for him to come out and spend time with us. He knows (defensive coordinator Gregg) Williams. He knows (defensive line coach) Clyde Simmons. He knows some of our coaches. We all kind of go back. It was good to see him. He looks like he could still play. I would take him on the other side, too (laughter). It is good. Anytime we can have former players or Hall of Famers come back and talk to our players and be around them, I think that is a good thing. Obviously, we have the greatest of all-time in Jim Brown so that is really good for us.”
Jackson joked about how small his pool of reporters was after practice because elsewhere on the practice fields, Smith was also conducting his own post-practice interview session. Here he is re-emphasizing how important it is for Garrett to get a good jump right at the snap of the ball, which could be the difference between a sack/fumble vs. just a hit on the quarterback.
Smith also talked about Garrett’s maturity at his age -- being beyond his years — and how receptive he is to advice.
Lastly, Pat McManamon of ESPN relayed a quote from Smith that conveys that even though the two are going up against each other, the advice that Thomas can potentially pass along to Garrett after each play can be invaluable:
“Joe can be an invaluable asset to Myles. To be able to communicate with him after a play is over, after a pass rush, he can teach him how to be dominant player much quicker if he talks to him and communicates with him and tells him what he did wrong and what he did right, as opposed to him remaining silent.”