Brownie Bites: Defensive rebuild under Jim Schwartz comes into focus

BEREA, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz isn’t trying to fool anyone and he leads this week’s OTAs edition of Brownie Bites from Wednesday’s availability.

Although Schwartz deferred credit to EVP/GM Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski for the offseason rebuild of the defense, his fingerprints are all over it.

“There is communication of how players are going to be used and what’s going to be asked of them, and does this player fit, would you think, things like that,” Schwartz said Wednesday. “But final determination…this is Andrew and Kevin's team. It’s my job to coach the guys that they give us. But I'm really happy for the guys up front, the additions they've made. I think they fit us really well.

“I think we got a lot of interchangeable spots. We’ll play a lot of guys up front. We're not just going to play four guys. We’ll roll through eight, maybe even nine guys at times trying to keep guys fresh and keep them throwing a 100 mph fast balls.”

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Schwartz, who loves using baseball analogies, isn’t even trying to hide his expectations or vision for what his defense will look like this season following the additions of Dalvin Tomlinson, Juan Thornhill and Za'Darius Smith among others.

“The tempo that we want those guys to play, we’re going to need to rotate fresh troops in,” Schwartz said of the defensive line. “Offensive lines don't sub, but we can keep the pressure on those guys and we can play to a high standard with that depth and that's an important part of what we do.”

Flexibility and versatility will determine who and how much Schwartz plays them, not only up front but in the secondary as well.

“Depending on the matchup, you might see different players playing nickel in different games and a bigger guy that plays more physical, we might have one guy in there,” Schwartz said. “A small, shifty quick guy, we might have somebody else in there. The way we play our coverage, there's a lot of carryover between corner and nickel. It’s not its own specific position. So I think it’ll make us compartmentalize and be able to move guys around a little bit more, just to play some matchups.”

Schwartz may employ more three safety looks this season as well.

“It’s going to depend on the game and things like that, but it’s definitely a package that as we get going, we don’t really run it right now, but in training camp you’ll see a significant amount and then how much we play, it’ll depend on if it’s our best matchup and who we're playing and all those things,” Schwartz said. “But our job in training camp is to get ready for all those different situations. And again, you can’t play three safety packages with sort of one-trick ponies. Your guys have to be flexible, have to have some multi-dimensional skills.”

In a short time, Schwartz has shown he’s not shy about getting after guys during drills.

“That’s what we need. We need to be coached up,” cornerback Denzel Ward said. “Whether that’s in a hard way or not, I mean it is good criticism. Just guys got to be out here knowing what they're supposed to do and doing our job and he's making sure that he’s holding us to that standard.”

Goin’ deep – A week ago Deshaun Watson struggled connecting on the deep ball with his receivers as reporters looked on. Wednesday was a much different story as Watson hit on multiple throws he missed last week. “Bringing in Marquis [Goodwin] and Elijah [Moore] has been a boost to that room with their playmaking ability and their speed down the field. Just getting a feel for those guys right now and their timing and their pass routes. That’s the big part, but impressive. We hit a couple deep balls today that—we’ve circled that as an area of improvement and it showed up today, so that's a good start.” Goodwin caught one of those deep balls and he can’t wait to catch a few more. “Deshaun is electric. You see that arm? He’s got God’s arm, for sure,” Goodwin said. The veteran receiver also showed speed is not an issue for him at 32. “I think I’m pretty much in my prime, so I don't think I lost any speed,” Goodwin said. “It's kind of like fine wine, you just get better with time.”

Big leap – Van Pelt praised Watson’s growth within the system Wednesday and believes he can see the quarterback’s confidence growing from the huddle to taking his shots down field with each practice this offseason. “He's improved tenfold since this time last year,” Van Pelt said. “And then he made a throw today I haven't seen, hair stood up on my arm. He dotted a touchdown in the red zone that was really, really an impressive throw. So I mean, you see it all start to come together playing with a little swagger out there and having some fun.” That throw was a seam route to Moore that Watson put right on his facemask over a defender. “I was like, ‘Wow, that was a tremendous throw and catch,’” Van Pelt said.

RB-2 competition – There’s a segment of fans – and even some national media who feel the Browns aren’t set behind Nick Chubb. The Browns disagree and there will be quite the competition between Jerome Ford, Demetric Felton, and John Kelly for the job. “I mean there's a spot there,” Van Pelt said. “There's an opportunity for somebody to step up at this time. Jerome has done a nice job when he’s had his opportunities. He's doing a great job in his protections. John Kelly just makes plays on the scout team when he gets in there. So there's great competition there. Then Felton adding him back in the room with his flexibility to work out of the backfield. I feel like we have a good mix of different types of players that could all play roles for us.” Felton is an interesting player because since being drafted in the sixth round in 2021 he’s spent most of his practice reps at receiver. He’s now mixed back in with the running backs. “We know what he can do at receiver and he’s good in that role as well and has had success for us,” Van Pelt said. “We haven't handed him too many balls in the past, but he came out as a running back, so I know he has that skillset in him as well. Then his ability to come out of the back field and run routes as a slash player is an area I think he could help us.”

Kicked off – New special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone is still assessing how he and his unit will adjust to the new fair catch rule approved this offseason. “Honestly, I don’t know how it’s going to end up playing out,” Ventrone said. “I think that there are a number of ways that it could go.” Ventrone indicated it’s not going to be automatic his returners call for a fair catch to get the ball at the 25. “I don’t think a lot of players want to use a fair catch, nor do coaches,” Ventrone said. “So I feel confident in our group to this point. I know we’ve got a lot of good returners. We’ve got depth in all those ball handlers on the roster, so my mentality would be to return first, but we’ll explore every option that we have with it. There’s a lot of situational, things that play into effect as well, so just kind of play it by ear.” While the NFL seems to be doing all it can to eliminate kickoffs, Ventrone doesn’t believe that will be the end game. “I couldn’t imagine a game starting without a kickoff,” Ventrone said. “You get to the Super Bowl, could you imagine the Super Bowl starting without a kick? It would be like, what are we watching? This isn’t even football to me. I think the rule is kind of silly, to be honest. But it is what it is.”

Where’s Myles – Myles Garrett is considered to be a defensive leader, but Garrett remains absent from the voluntary practices. He’s not the only one either. So is Nick Chubb, David Njoku and Joel Bitonio. Za’Darius Smith, who was introduced last week, also took Wednesday’s session off. Schwartz isn’t wasting energy on the where’s Garrett talk. “Those questions aren’t for me,” Schwartz said. “We’ll keep conversations between players too, where they belong between coach and the player. He’ll be here and he’ll be ready when the time comes.”

Quote of the day – It goes to Schwartz who offered this gem when asked about cornerback Greg Newsome II’s happiness in his defensive scheme. “He’s been willing to do whatever we've asked, but the happiness of players is not my concern,” Schwartz said. “And that’s not going to be the determining factor of how we play guys or anything else. We’re going to do what's best for our team. We’re going to play guys in the best matchups and our job as coaches is to put guys in positions that they can succeed. But I don’t want to make that sound like a negative on Greg, because he’s been outstanding. He’s had some really good reps in this stuff. He’s played outside corner, he’s played inside corner. He’s going to be an important part of our defense, whether he’s playing inside, outside or rushing the passer.”

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