Whether or not they have succeeded remains to be seen, but you have to give the Cleveland Browns credit for trying to rebuild their defense this offseason. While part of it involves simply getting a couple of players back from injury, they have added key new players in the draft with Greg Newsome II and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, but particularly in free agency, with John Johnson III and Troy Hill in the secondary, among others, and especially Jadeveon Clowney up front.
The Browns already have a premiere edge defender in Myles Garrett, a two-time Pro Bowler and would-be three-time were it not for a suspension in 2019, but they haven’t had a steady complement. At least for the 2021 season, they believe Clowney, himself a former first overall pick, can be that guy.
“Offenses, they are going to have to make a choice of who they are going to chip and where they are going to slide the protection to”, defensive coordinator Joe Woods said of the pairing of Garrett and Clowney. Clowney “will be a great complement, and we’ll also be able to move those guys around just to try to create some favorable matchups”.
Garrett had 12 sacks and four forced fumbles last season in 14 games, along with 10 tackles for loss. He has 42.5 sacks in his career, over 51 games, along with 10 forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and 42 tackles for loss. He has very much lived up to the billing of a first overall pick, and his big contract.
As for Clowney, that’s a tough argument to make, even with three Pro Bowls. He’s never had a 10-sack season, although he’s hit 9 and 9.5. He has posted 16 or more tackles for loss three times, and has nine forced fumbles. But he has just three sacks over the past two years across 21 games.
Injuries have been a factor in his story, and in fact, he’s recovering from yet another, missing eight games last season because of it. But he feels like he’s in a good place now and ready to maximize his talents for what could potentially be the best defense he’s been a part of.
“I’ve been training extremely hard this offseason, so I kind of already have a feel of where I was coming here”, he told reporters about his place within the team and from a health standpoint, during minicamp last month. “I felt great coming in, and I feel great now”.
The Browns ranked 21st in points allowed last season. While they had a top-10 rushing defense, they ranked 22nd in passing yards allowed, 18th in takeaways, and were in the bottom third in third-down defense. They did have 38 sacks, which is neither good nor particularly bad, but somewhere closer to average.
Can Clowney and the substantial host of other additions change this unit in just one season into one of the best in the league? More than half of the defensive starters will consist of new players, or those who were injured last season, with Garrett and Denzel Ward the rare holdovers, presumably Mack Wilson the other.