Don’t look now, but the Browns safety room is loaded. Absolutely loaded.
Although Ronnie Harrison, Sheldrick Redwine, Jovante Moffatt, Elijah Benton and Grant Delpit are 2020 hold-overs in this group, GM Andrew Berry made a huge splash signing early in the free agency period by inking John Johnson III away from the Los Angeles Rams.
And in the fifth-round of the NFL draft, he selected Richard LeCounte III out of SEC powerhouse Georgia.
All eyes this year will become lasered-in on Delpit who tore his Achilles early in training camp this time last year. The former second-round pick was drafted to help anchor center field and become a fierce competitor which has been sorely needed from past depth charts. Can Delpit come back and be the same player he was drafted to be?
Harrison is a sure tackler who Berry traded for early last year when the Jacksonville Jaguars were basically dumping every high-dollar player on their roster. And Johnson is Pro Bowl quality.
Won’t these three see the lion’s share of snaps?
Not so fast. Have you seen LeCounte play?
LeCounte (5’-10”, 195 pounds) went to Liberty County High School in Hinesville, Georgia. All anyone who plays for Georgia high school teams talk about is wanting to play for the Georgia Bulldogs. You grow up with this team and watch every game at home or at a sports bar. Yes there is Georgia Tech, but the state loves its Bulldogs. The SEC rules college football and the best matchups each and every week happen there.
As a senior in high school, he was named Male Athlete-of-the-Year and also the Football Defensive Player-of-the-Year by the Savannah Morning News which name these teams for all high school sports on an annual basis. Then LeCounte was selected to play in the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He was named a five-star recruit and had a laundry list of colleges who wanted his services including Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Notre Dame.
He also was a gifted basketball player and helped his school capture the 2016 state championship.
But LeCounte had wanted to be a Georgia Bulldog since he was a little kid. After his junior year in football, he ended all speculation and committed to the Bulldogs.
At Georgia, he played in all 10 games as a freshman with 15 tackles. In his sophomore campaign, he started 13 of 14 games and led the Bulldogs defense with 74 tackles with one interception. As a junior, he netted 61 tackles and upped his interception game with four picks. He was named team captain and All-American.
At this point, he could have entered the NFL draft. Other teammates, S J.R. Reed, OT Andrew Thomas, OT Isaiah Thomas and RB D’Andre Swift were headed to the NFL. But on the day after his Bulldogs defeated Baylor in the Sugar Bowl in which he had two picks, LeCounte made an announcement that he was staying for one more year.
His junior year was a breakout season where he was second in the conference in interceptions. He led the SEC in fumble recoveries, had two forced fumbles and 4.5 tackles for loss. He was known as this turnover master. LeCounte had demonstrated his ability to be a defensive leader and display emotion and love to his teammates.
LeCounte had a reputation of being a hard-hitter who rarely missed. He has had some the most vicious hits for the Bulldogs two seasons in a row.
In his senior season Georgia ranked Number 5 after a 21-0 win over their rival Kentucky, the team plane landed just after 5:00pm. Later than evening, LeCounte’s world would change.
Life and career altering
When the Bulldogs returned home from the Kentucky game Halloween night, LeCounte was riding his dirtbike when he collided with two other vehicles outside an Athens, Georgia convenience store not far from Georgia’s athletic complex.
The entire team ended up with LeCounte and his family at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center where he was placed in the intensive care unit.
Suddenly, the game of football and stuff like national rankings were all moot.
The cause of the accident happened with a car was turning into the parking lot of the convenience store and did not see LeCounte on his dirtbike. The dirtbike lost traction of the front tire and slid into the vehicle’s passenger side as LeCounte locked the brake. The impact redirected LeCounte’s bike into the eastbound lane, according to the report, and it was struck by a third vehicle.
At the scene when paramedics arrived, LeCounte was not responsive and laid on the pavement motionless. He was later diagnosed with a concussion, broken ribs, a nasty gash on the bridge of his nose and a shoulder injury. Luckily, he was wearing a helmet.
From there, he underwent extensive rehab and was eventually released from the hospital. Being a team leader, he was beloved in the locker room. Now, his rehabilitation and recovery process was just beginning.
Pro Day and the NFL draft
Like many big schools, Georgia offered a Pro Day for its outgoing football players. Richard LeCounte had worked his way back to respectability and not only attended, but worked out. Although he had numerous injuries, there wasn’t anything that didn’t heal.
But there were some differences to LeCounte. For one, his 4.4 speed was missing. He ran a 4.76 and then a 4.82. He also had poor numbers later at the Combine in just about every category.
Before the accident he was considered the second best safety prospect. Now, his abilities were questioned whether he would even be drafted. LeCounte demonstrated that he remained a high IQ guy, but his cat-quick reflexes and recovery speed were now a query. His Senior Bowl invitation was turned down.
When questioned by NFL representatives, he told them the truth about what happened and about his continuing injury situation and progress. He also developed a foot injury during his rehab process which contributed to his less than stellar 40 times.
Getting back to full form was always his goal. He worked hard and finally his body healed.
He waited until Round 5 to hear his name called during this year’s NFL draft. He comes to a Cleveland team that is fully stocked with high-quality safety play; something the franchise has struggled with in the past years.
With the Browns
LeCounte is healthy and ready to prove he belongs in the NFL. He wants to show that the pre-accident Richard LeCounte is still the same person and athlete but a bit wiser and more determined.
The question remains: can he make the final roster, or is he destined to the practice squad?
In years past, a guy drafted usually meant he was expected to play sooner than later. The roster was begging for better players regardless of position. But suddenly, Cleveland is a playoff team. Expectations are high this year for a deep playoff run.
This means that rookies will have the biggest uphill battle to win a roster spot. Especially Day 3 rookies.
To add to the difficulty, the Browns have three exceptional players at the safety position and some very capable backups who already possess NFL experience.
But GM Andrew Berry has stated that his draft picks were considered based on future needs. If LeCounte does make the final roster, it is assumed that his role will initially become a heavy hitter on special teams; something the Browns place a lot of emphasis on.
If you look at his pre-accident film, he jumps out as a playmaker that any defense can build around or insert immediately as a nickel or dime defender.
LeCounte has power and dependability in his toolbox. He has a chance to make this roster, but will have to work harder than any of the other safeties to show his worth.
Johnson will start. Delpit or Harrison will become the other starter, but all three will play quite a bit. Redwine has the most playing time on the active roster. Moffatt, Meander and Benton have one defensive snap combined.
There weren’t any surgeries required for LeCounte’s injuries, but he did suffer some serious wounds especially in soft-tissue areas which may become an issue with muscle memory and some of his flexibility. But his instincts remain true and he is a heck of a player.
LeCounte’s attitude remains a committed football player who will go out full speed and prove that his place this year is with the Cleveland Browns.