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Training camp storylines to watch: Which two will start at DT for the Browns?

Defensive tackle will be a full-out battle for the starting two positions. 

Cleveland Browns Mandatory Minicamp Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

It is widely known that last year’s starters at defensive tackle are no longer with the franchise. That means, there are two starting positions up for grabs on the defense this season. But, which two?

Jordan Elliott and Andrew Billings are the only holdovers at the position from last season; although Billings took the opt out option and has yet to play a single game for the Browns.

New guys that have been signed to compete are Malik Jackson, Sheldon Day, Damion Square and Malik McDowell. Then there are the two rookies: Tommy Togiai and Marvin Wilson.

Typically, Cleveland only keeps four DT’s, so expect some fireworks from this position in training camp this year. It will become very interesting to watch. Which two will start is our question. The second question is which two will become depth. Question Number 3 surrounds whether Marvin Wilson or Malik McDowell can become the monster players they were projected to be coming out of college and are both now a part of this group.


Thomas Moore

The competition at defensive tackle will be one of the storylines to watch during training camp this summer.

Malik Jackson and Andrew Billings enter camp as the presumptive favorites to claim the starting roles — primarily because of their experience in what is a young position group. Jackson is the veteran of the group, having appeared in 126 games with 73 starts, and two years removed from a season-ending foot injury, he might have enough left in the tank to give the Browns some quality play on early downs.

While not as seasoned as Jackson, Billings was a two-year starter for the Cincinnati Bengals prior to signing with the Browns in free agency prior to the 2020 season. He still has a lot to prove, however, after opting out last season due to COVID-19.

Jackson and Billings will be pushed by a group of younger players in Jordan Elliott, a PFF darling despite limited time and production as a rookie last season, Tommy Togiai, a fourth-round selection in this year’s NFL Draft, Malik McDowell, who has the talent but has yet to show it due to off-field issues since being selected in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, and Marvin Wilson, an undrafted free agent who has many people excited despite being passed over by every NFL team in this year’s draft.

The Browns kept four defensive tackles last season, and with expectations that defensive coordinator Joe Woods will slide defensive end Jadeveon Clowney inside on occasion, it is probably safe to assume they will not increase that number this year.

Jackson and Billings may be coming into camp penciled in as the starters, but there will be plenty of opportunities for everyone to show what they have, and if the veterans slip up, they could be in for some disappointing news when the final roster cutdowns roll around.

Projected starters: Malik Jackson and Andrew Billings


Paul Baxendale

Shenanigans CLE Sports

LINK: SHENANIGANS CLE SPORTS FACEBOOK PAGE

The DT group is a deep one, but also our biggest question mark. Only one of them actually played in a Browns’ uniform last year: Jordan Elliott. Andrew Billings is back from the COVID list. Malik Jackson is possibly the closest replacement we have to Sheldon Richardson. They have a similar career stat line, but Jackson’s numbers have dropped the last two years while transitioning to more of a rotation player in Philly. Hopefully getting him more snaps from another possible starting role will let us see some version of him that was in Jacksonville as a Pro Bowler. Jordan Elliott played in all 16 games as a rookie last year but had limited production in just under 20 snaps a game, something he has mentioned and wants to improve on.

Cleveland Browns Mandatory Minicamp
Andrew Billings
Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

DL coach Chris Kiffin praised Elliott for his efforts and called him the most improved player from Year 1 to Year 2. Billings came to us from the Bengals as another run stopper. He started 37 of 47 games in his time there but some viewed him as a rotational player behind Richardson and Ogunjobi. DC Joe Woods called him out for not being in football shape, a.k.a overweight if you’ve seen some of the camp photos. He seems to think a month’s time and he’ll be good to go.

Tommy Togiai and Marvin Wilson are both rookies that garnered some praise in college. Wilson was First Team All-ACC in 2019 but may have let it get to his head a little. He came back overweight and under strength in 2020 and it showed in his play. Add that to a preseason spat with the coaches and he went from a probable second or third-round pick that Mel Kiper labeled “Top 10 material” to being undrafted. Togiai most of us are familiar with. He contributed right away at Ohio State as a true freshman and only got better. He started every game last season and was voted Second Team All-Big 10. Many believe he would’ve been one of the top D lineman had he stayed one more year. He was a standout in rookie camp and if he adds a little more size/strength he could be a real force in the middle.

Malik McDowell is possibly our biggest question mark at the position. A second-round pick in 2017, he has yet to play a game due to injury and legal issues. He came out of college as an edge rusher that also played inside. Drafted out of Michigan State in 2017 some feel like there hasn’t been a DT drafted since with his combined size and skill - although inconsistent. McDowell most likely comes into camp as a bubble player but if he shows signs of the player he was he could certainly make the roster.

Damion Square and Sheldon Day are two career depth guys. Square had some minor success with the San Diego Chargers the last few years but never fully took grasp of a starting role and Day has yet to really stick with a team. The question for them is “will they make the team?” instead of “will they be starting?”

I think it will be a very fluid position between Jackson, Billings, Elliott and Togiai with contributions from Wilson and/or McDowell, depending on how many they keep. But September 12th I think we’ll see Jackson and Billings for the first snap but could change on a per game basis until someone truly takes hold of the job.

Projected starters: Andrew Billings and Malik Jackson


Luis Rivera

Moderator: Dawg Pound Underground Group

LINK: DAWG POUND UNDERGROUND GROUP FANPAGE

With the season approaching, I was asked to give some input as who will be the starting defensive tackles for our Cleveland Browns.

#1. We’ll start with the obvious - Malik Jackson. A 31-year-old veteran who was a solid player, but kind of lost a step last season after being put on the IR in September of 2019. Since being drafted in 2012, he has logged 35 total sacks (career high 8 in 2017), and 6 forced fumbles. Last season, he played in 15 games, starting six, and had 2.5 sacks. His experience will be helpful considering there are two other rookies in position.

Cleveland Browns Mandatory Minicamp
Sheldon Day
Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

#2. Sheldon Day - 2016 fourth-round pick out of Notre Dame has bounced around quite a bit throughout his short career: Jacksonville Jaguars 2016-2017 (waived 11/18/2017); San Francisco 49ers rotational player from 2017-2019; Indianapolis Colts 2020 (waived 11/17/2020); joined the Browns practice squad in 2020 and then was signed April 14, 2021. His career stats are 55 tackles, six sacks, and five deflections. He is expected to be a rotational player

#3. Malik McDowell - Drafted in 2017 by the Seattle Seahawks, second-round pick out of Michigan State was very highly-touted. Unfortunately, he just couldn’t stay out of trouble. A few weeks before training camp in 2017, he became injured in an ATV accident and never played a down for Seattle. Problems didn’t stop there, as he has been in trouble with the law multiple times, one of which, ended up in an 11-month prison sentence in 2019. Hopefully, he can take advantage of a second opportunity and end up in the rotation to see what he can do in the NFL. He does not have any career stats.

#4. Jordan Elliott - 2020 third-round pick by our beloved Cleveland Browns out of Missouri. He was the only Browns rookie to play in all 16 regular season games, and both playoff games. He logged 15 combined tackles in the regular season and two combined tackles in the postseason (both against Pittsburgh). A negative mark on him coming out of college: very athletic with poor productivity. Elliott stated that he was disappointed with his production his rookie season and hopes to build from it. He has lost 10 pounds this past off-season to help build some speed. I expect him to be the starter (opposite Malik Jackson) on the line, for now.

#5. Andrew Billings - 2016 4th round pick by Cincinnati out of Baylor. Coming out of college, he was considered first-round talent who was strong and quick, but undersized. He signed with the Browns on March 26, 2020, but opted out last season due to COVID. He spent his rookie season on IR with a torn meniscus. So his stats are based on three of his five seasons in the NFL. With the Bengals from 2017-2019, he played in 47 games, starting 37 of them, with 80 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He is a big body that can help stop the run. A good rotational player that can also play the nose tackle position. Looking forward to seeing what he can do for the Browns this season.

NFL: Cleveland Browns Minicamp Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

#6. Marvin Wilson - 2021 undrafted free agent out of Florida State University. Many consider this an excellent signing. Showed a lot of promise in 2019 when he had 44 tackles and five sacks, but suffered season-ending injury to his hand in November. In 2020, through six games he had 17 tackles and one sack before season-ending injury to his leg in November of that year. Wilson is known for having explosive speed and may challenge for a starting position in the future if he can stay healthy.

#7. Tommy Togiai - 2021 fourth-round draft pick from Ohio State University. Considered a project right now that can develop into a rotational player. He’s known for having a great first step and works really well with his hands. But the knock on him is that he needs to bulk up and he gets tied up in blocks. He has played 33 games with the Buckeyes, starting seven. In seven games in 2020, he has a combined 23 tackles (4.5 TFL), with three sacks.

#8. Damion Square - 2013 undrafted free agent out Alabama. He has played for the Eagles (2013), Chiefs (2014), and then the Chargers (2014-2020). He has career totals of 113 combined tackles with 6.5 sacks. He has started all 16 games the last four seasons and will help with having veteran depth on the rotation if he makes the team.

Projected starters: Jordan Elliott and Malik Jackson


Barry Shuck

This DT room is going to be a tough call of which of the eight will become only four. That in itself is going to worth a ticket to watch in training camp. There is a lot of talent in this room, and a lot of projected talent.

Take Malik McDowell for example. A former early second-round draft pick in 2017 who has yet to not only play a single NFL game, but until he signed with the Browns had never even been through a single practice session. And Andrew Billings? This dude should have been running and working out for a single year instead of watching HBO or playing Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto 5. Isn’t a roster spot worth millions?

NFL: Cleveland Browns Minicamp Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

It is going to be tough for players such as fifth-round pick Tommy Togiai and undrafted free agent Marvin Wilson to be outright cut. There is no way either would clear waivers, so Cleveland is going to have to keep them both supposedly. That leaves only two spots. Well, maybe.

Malik Jackson can play both inside and outside. That may be the saving grace for the 32-year old who hasn’t really played much since Week 10 of the 2019 season. But he has come into camp looking fit and healthy which is a huge plus. Sheldon Day and Damion Square are both depth players who may find the practice squad.

McDowell and Wilson are the wild cards in this room. At one time they were both labeled as “can’t miss” players who have had issues on and off the field. If either has a terrific training camp, it will be impossible to keep a veteran over youth.

Projected starters: Jordan Elliott and Malik Jackson


Lee Shellko

President: Honolulu Hawaii Browns Backers

LINK: HONOLULU HAWAII BROWNS BACKERS FACEBOOK PAGE

NFL: Cleveland Browns Minicamp Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Tommy Togiai is an impressive defensive tackle that played for the hometown favorite Ohio State Buckeyes. He is a quick, explosive interior lineman with quick reaction at the snap, a great first step and plays with excellent lean. He had 23 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, two pass deflections, and a forced fumble in his last season with the Buckeyes.

He gets leverage on opponents, moves well laterally and pursues the play down the line of scrimmage or outside the box. Togiai works his hands throughout the play, jolts blockers with a violent punch, and knocks them back off the ball.

We believe that he has the potential to be a great player and adds to the depth of the Browns defense. We are also bias and love to support our Polynesian brothers.

Second choice is Malik Jackson, 10-year NFL veteran who played with both the Tennessee Volunteers football and USC Trojans football teams. Over his career, Malik is credited with 267 tackles, 35 sacks, six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and 25 pass deflections.

Projected starters: Tommy Togiai and Malik Jackson

Poll

The Browns will feature two new DT starters this year. How do you view this group as a viable unit on the defense?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    A for Awesome!
    (38 votes)
  • 42%
    B for Better run defense projection this year
    (177 votes)
  • 43%
    C for Can’t really say at this point
    (180 votes)
  • 3%
    D for Dawgs gone backwards
    (14 votes)
  • 0%
    F for WTF?
    (4 votes)
413 votes total Vote Now