Browns Have Large Expectations for Defensive Line
2020 was a memorable season for Cleveland Browns fans. The team finished with their first winning record since 2007, and they also won their first playoff game since Bill Belichick was their head coach back in 1994. With the new excitement comes bigger expectations for the team in the 2021 campaign, and one position group that will be expected to step up is the defensive line.
Yes, the Browns lost Sheldon Richardson to the Vikings in free agency (shout-out Dustin Baker), but they did acquire a big name in Jadeveon Clowney, and they’ll have Andrew Billings returning after he opted out of last season due to COVID protocols.
The former South Carolina Gamecock Clowney signed with the Browns after wrapping up 2020 with the Tennessee Titans. Per Scott Petrak of the Medina County (OH) Gazette, Clowney provided some notable quotes when he watched film of himself and his new d-line teammates.
“It reminds me of when I watch San Francisco, the same team a couple of years ago that went to the Super Bowl and that defense,” he said during the Browns’ minicamp. “I am thinking we can do that upfront in ways, rotate guys and guys come in and play well.”
It will be interesting to see how the new group of defensive line players, which include names such as Malik Jackson, Clowney, Takkarist McKinley, and Tommy Togiai, this year’s rookie draft pick.
And as Jackson noted, he’s excited to be part of a big and highly-talented defensive line. “I think we have a lot of talent. I think we have a lot of upside,” he said. “But I think we need to continue to get in the plays and really just get everything down pat so we can work on this pass rush and get these 40-plus sacks this year.”
However, there is pressure in the NFL to perform with such a star-studded unit. A high amount of promise and talent does not always equal major production, especially considering that injuries could play a factor at any point in the season.
For defensive coordinator Joe Woods, this is nothing new. Woods was a major reason behind the San Francisco defense that went all the way to the big game in Super Bowl LIV against Kansas City.
“When I was in San Francisco,” he said, “We went through the season so you can see the results of it because we played 19 games. We have not played a game yet, and on paper, it all looks good, but it is all about what you do between the white lines. You can see we have ability, but it is all going to be based on how we perform if we are similar to that unit.”
On the edge of the line, the Browns will have Clowney and McKinley alongside fifth-year star Myles Garrett, with Porter Gustin and Curtis Weaver serving as backups for depth. On the inside at the tackles, there’s Jackson, Billings, Togiai, and last year’s third-round draft pick Jordan Elliott.
And, when healthy, this unit will be able to create some major havoc for any opposing offensive line that has to go up against them. One teammate who has noticed this is All-Pro guard Joel Bitonio.
“You hope the best guy does not line up over you when they have three or four guys who are like that,” he said. “It is a challenge because they can shift the D-line. You think Myles is going to be playing D-end and that is where you want to double-team him, and then they move him inside.”
2021 is carrying some major expectations for the Cleveland Browns and their fans, and if the defensive line can stay healthy, the team could very well be reminiscent of the 2019 San Francisco 49ers for coordinator Joe Woods.