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The continuing journey of Porter Gustin

The Browns may have found another awesome pass rusher

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Back in the free agency period, all the talk was should the Browns sign pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney.

Clowney wanted $20 million a season. That scared off quite a few teams - except the Browns who offered the defensive end more in the neighborhood of $15 million for a one-year deal. Weeks went by, and no word on Clowney’s decision. Apparently, he didn’t think he could survive on so little money for a year or he just didn’t like the City of Cleveland.

Next up on the Browns’ radar was disgruntled DE Yannick Ngakoue of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Ngakoue was franchised by the Jags which meant he would be slated to make $17.8 million this year. Apparently, it must be tough to live off that kind of money and he wanted out of this Atlantic coastline city. The former third-rounder was trade talk rumor for Cleveland, but ultimately was traded to the Minnesota Vikings for a second-round pick plus a conditional selection which could end up being a fourth-round pick.

While in Berea, Ohio, each of the Browns’ starting defensive ends, Olivier Vernon and Myles Garrett, were having a good camp. Both athletes made the Pro Bowl in 2018. Garrett was still playing on his rookie contract when Cleveland exercised the fifth-year option and then signed him to a five-year $125 million extension.

Veteran player and Super Bowl champion Adrian Clayborn was signed during free-agency as quality backup material with lots of game experience. A former first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Clayborn had started 51 games in his 10-year career with 196 career tackles. He once netted six sacks in a single game while with the Atlanta Falcons.

And all the while, another pass rusher rose to the surface.

Another Super Bowl champion? No. Former first-round draft selection? Nope. Pro Bowler? Hardly. High draft pick? Negative. Double-digit sack numbers? Please.

You already know his name. You probably just don’t know much about him, or how much he stood out during this year’s training camp.

He is defensive end Porter Gustin.

2020 training camp darling

While all the news was hitting on whether Clowney would be signed, or perhaps that trade bait story regarding Ngakoue could be pulled off somehow, Gustin was doing what he was supposed to be doing: improving and standing out.

Gustin (6’-5”, 257 pounds) was the breakout pass rusher in this year’s camp. He displayed power-to-speed abilities off the edge and was inserted on the first-team quite frequently. He is a very hard worker with the focus to prove he deserves to not only make this year’s roster but to be on the field.

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers
Porter Gustin #97 of the Cleveland Browns tackles running back Benny Snell #24 of the Pittsburgh Steelers
Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

In August, Sports Illustrated printed a “Four names to know” list of Browns’ players who stood out during training camp. Gustin was one of those athletes mentioned.

Gustin’s salary is just $675,000 this season. He is playing on the two-year deal he signed last season. Vernon makes $3.75 million whereas Garrett brings home a cap number of $10.12 million. Even backup Clayborn makes bank with $1.75 million. Yet despite all the numbers, Gustin seems to have starter abilities.

He can play at a high level and is fast off the edge. Gustin, age 23, is a high-energy guy. Despite Clayborn’s experience and the money they are paying him to be a backup, Gustin will become the one who will come off the bench first. To be factual, he will crowd Vernon for playing time.

With Garrett missing time with a hamstring injury, it was Gustin who filled-in his DE slot and brutally defeated rookie tackle Jedrick Wills, Jr. routinely. Former third-rounder Chad Thomas lost his job because of Gustin’s impressive camp as Gustin made the final 53-man roster while Thomas was cut.

It was not an uncommon site to see Gustin staying after practice sessions putting in more time. And now, that time is paying off.

How did Gustin end up on the Browns?

Gustin had issues with staying healthy while at USC after a stellar career at Salem Hills High School (Utah) in which he excelled in four sports.

While at USC, he suffered a fractured ankle his senior year after only six games which ended his season. In 2017, he had bicep and toe ailments that allowed him on the field just four games.

Despite his injury history, he was invited to the Combine. In all his interviews, he made certain to bring up the point that he was healthy and was able to finally showcase his athletic abilities. He ran a 4.69 40, did 120 inches on the broad jump and posted 31 reps on the bench press – the fifth most of any player at the Combine.

All the while, the knock on him was that he “was fragile” and perhaps American Football just wasn’t where he belonged. Yet, the truth was that he simply had several unfortunate injuries in a game in which getting hurt is a common workplace occurrence. In fact, Gustin routinely played hurt and found a way to play through the pain.

Gustin is a weight room junkie. Add the fact that his injuries were mainly bone issues which are able to heal and grow back instead of soft-tissue, muscular or ligament ailments.

While at USC, he was a team captain so leadership is in his blood. He also possesses a very good work ethic.

Pac-12 Championship - Stanford v USC Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images

Gustin played in all 24 games during his freshman and sophomore years. He had 68 tackles as the starter in 2016 plus 5.5 sacks. He was named All Pac-12 Honorable Mention plus a Campus Insiders Sophomore All-American. Despite an abbreviated junior campaign, he was selected All Pac-12 Second Team. In his senior year before his right ankle became injured, in just six games he had an incredible 7.5 sacks with 28 tackles.

The lack of playing time during his final two college seasons killed his draft status. He went undrafted in the 2019 NFL draft before signing with the New Orleans Saints shortly after the draft. He was a final roster cut on August 31. The Browns signed him to their practice squad on November 4.

Two weeks later, he was already elevated to the 53-man roster. With Garrett on league suspension and Vernon down with a knee injury, the club was suddenly strapped for defensive end help. Then-GM John Dorsey was signing bodies and inserting names onto the roster to see which ones would stick.

Gustin stood out then, and only continues to outplay his projections. Last year, he only played in six games to which he had one sack, two QB hits, one tackle-for-loss, one fumble recovery and 13 tackles.

But one thing he gained: NFL experience.

And if he can have a productive year, keeping Gustin over signing Clowney will save the Browns $14.325 million this year.

Sometimes patience reigns out over logic.