The Cleveland Browns offense is expected to be one of the league’s best in 2021 as the unit is returning every important player from a successful first season under head coach Kevin Stefanski.
The situation is quite different on defense after general manager Andrew Berry put the unit under a major renovation in the offseason.
Berry brought in defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Takk McKinley; defensive tackles Malik Jackson, Sheldon Day, Tommy Togiai, Malik McDowell and Damion Square; linebackers Tony Fields II, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Anthony Walker; and defensive backs Greg Newsome II, Troy Hill, John Johnson III and Richard LeCounte III.
The defensive unit is also welcoming back cornerback Greedy Williams and safety Grant Delpit after both players missed the 2020 season with injuries, and defensive tackle Andrew Billings, who opted out last season.
The man tasked with making all those parts work together is defensive coordinator Joe Woods, who while dealing with several new players does have the advantage of having his coaching staff together for a second season.
Woods was asked about all the new faces on Thursday and said that as long as the coaching staff does its job, he is confident everything will work out, according to a team-provided transcript:
“It is my job to go in there and our job as coaches to teach these guys the scheme, the techniques that we are using and to rep it. That is what the offseason is for and that is what training camp is for. You are going to have things that you are going to come across and adversity throughout the season, but as long as we can establish our defensive scheme and guys can execute, I feel like it will not be as much of a problem as people may think it will be. Again, there may be six or more starters [added to the roster], but I am excited about that just in terms of what we were able to bring in.”
The additions will allow the defense to create the type of favorable matchups in the secondary and along the defensive line that were not possible last season, according to Woods:
“Yes, dime package is a big part of what I was involved in in (former NFL defensive coordinator) Wade Phillips system in Denver. You are always trying to put yourself in a position where you have favorable matchups. When we go dime, we are putting more cover guys on the field, and we are putting more speed on the field. It probably will not be as much as I ran in Denver, but it will definitely be a lot more [than last year], especially on third down and maybe two-minute situations.
“There will be ways if we know we are getting a getting certain protections that we are going to work on a couple of guys, we can move guys around and create the one on ones that we want to create. That is what excites me the most is really just digging back into those packages when we have our pass rush unit out there in passing situations and doing what we want to do.”
Given that many of the defensive struggles in 2020 were due to things outside of the coaching staff’s control, it would be easy for Woods to point fingers. Given the opportunity on Thursday, however, he chose to focus on the road ahead:
“Last year, there was a whole lot of things you can say, but we have the mindset of no excuses and no explanations. Week in and week out you try to find a way to win. Just based on practice time and players available, there were certain things that we were not able to get to, but now moving forward, we have already started the process in the offseason of installing some new defensive packages and some new cover schemes, just so we can dictate the tempo a little bit more.”
The Browns have serious aspirations at making a run at the Super Bowl this season. A potentially high-powered offense will receive the majority of the headlines along the way, but it is the rebuilt defense that will make the difference between achieving that goal or ending another season in disappointment.