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Browns dealing with safety concerns

Safety play has been less than ideal through the season’s first four weeks and it may not get any better.

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Washington Football Team v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns thought they had solved one of the issues at the safety position when they selected Grant Delpit in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

That plan was put on hold, at least for this season, when Delpit suffered a season-ending injury to his Achilles’ tendon in training camp.

The team made a move to offset the loss of Delpit by sending a fifth-round draft pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for safety Ronnie Harrison Jr. right before the start of the season, but Harrison has seen little playing time on defense with a total of just 25 snaps.

That could all change on Sunday, however, when the Browns host the Indianapolis Colts after Friday’s news that safety Karl Joseph is questionable with a hamstring injury.

Joseph’s play has not been all that exciting as Pro Football Focus has him rated at No. 62 among the 77 safeties with an overall grade of 49.4.

While PFF is not infallible, Joseph’s low ranking does raise questions as to why Harrison has not been able to earn more playing time through the season’s first four weeks.

Defensive coordinator Joe Woods addressed the issue on Thursday and said that the coaching staff is going to “really try” to continue to get Harrison more playing time, according to Mary Kay Cabot at cleveland.com:

“I think [Harrison’s] natural fit is probably as a strong safety, but there are positions based on what we are calling where he will have to play in the post at times. It’s just something we’re evaluating week-to-week. He’s getting better. He’s understanding defenses more and more each week, and we are going to really try to get him some more reps in this game and continue to do that throughout the season.”

Ready or not, Harrison’s time may arrive on Sunday and could continue beyond the game against the Colts. Even though Joseph is listed as questionable, it would not come as a surprise if he can’t go and is actually out for a few weeks.

The reality is that players generally miss an average of 2.6 games whenever they suffer a hamstring injury, according to a 2011 study for the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams both missed four weeks last season with hamstring injuries, and former Browns linebacker Joe Schobert missed four weeks in 2018 with his own hamstring injury.

While Harrison might be ready to step up, the Browns appear to have no alternatives at the other safety position other than Andrew Sendejo, who has played every defensive snap this season.

As poorly as Joseph has played, Sendejo has come off even worse as he enters this weekend as PFF’s 67th-ranked safety with an overall grade of 46.9.

Sendejo has been the focus of the fans’ ire this season, most notably during the Week 4 win against the Dallas Cowboys after a long touchdown pass to wide receiver CeeDee Lamb.

Woods was quick to defend Sendejo’s play, according to The Beacon Journal’s Nate Ulrich:

“That was not his play. His play was on No. 2 on the out cut. He actually covered up. We busted that coverage extremely bad. The pressure did not work for us. He was not responsible for that first long touchdown whatsoever.”

Wood also credited Sendejo for his communication skills and his ability to get the defense lined up correctly, although that blown coverage on Lamb’s touchdown does not exactly mesh with Wood’s comments.

The reality is that these are the safeties that the Browns are going to have to roll with the rest of the season. Woods can work around their shortcomings by having the safeties keep everything in front of them and consistently tackling the ball carrier.

While that will result in some long drives and can tire out the defense, there does not appear to be a better option at the moment.