When the Cleveland Browns acquired Za’Darius Smith in a trade this offseason, fans and media noted how important his double digits sacks in three of the last four seasons would be. Playing opposite Myles Garrett, Smith would allow Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who was signed during free agency, to be a sub-package pass rusher.
Cleveland also spent resources at defensive tackle but only Dalvin Tomlinson is a proven commodity. Trysten Hill and Maurice Hurst have had injury history while rookie Siaki Ika was better as a nose tackle in the 3-4 in college.
With concerns about who might provide a pass rush from the inside, it is likely that we will see both Garrett and Smith taking some of those snaps.
During day two of Browns training camp, GM Andrew Berry lauded Smith’s ability to create pressure from the interior:
Last year, Smith played 328 snaps on the outside, according to Pro Football Focus, and 57 snaps over or inside of the offensive tackles. For his career, the new Cleveland defensive end has played over 3,500 snaps on the outside compared to over 700 in other spots on the defensive line.
With Tomlinson the team’s best defensive tackle, the Browns lack players who can get after the quarterback on the interior. With DC Jim Schwartz’s wide-9 system, having defensive tackles who can take on blocks to allow the edge rushers and linebackers to get into the backfield is key but it would be helpful on pure passing situations to have interior pressure.
Smith could be just the guy for the job. As you can tell from Berry’s response, the team believes that is a role that fits him quite well and would allow Okoronkwo to get on the field in three defensive end sets.