Forget about position battles, Browns training camp has bigger things to see – Scott Patsko
CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Browns’ training camp starts next week, which means this week is where we explain what we’re going to watch. My colleagues on the Browns beat covered most of it.
Ellis L. Williams reviewed some of the position battles he can’t wait to watch. Dan Labbe followed up with his thoughts on the subject. And Mary Kay Cabot changed the subject a bit and went through a handful of questions the team faced at the start of camp.
As for me, I will not speak of battles of position. To me, who ends up starting on the cornerback or the defensive tackle or the linebacker or the third receiver doesn’t matter as much as how they play, or more specifically, how Kevin Stefanski and Joe Woods use them.
With that in mind, here are some of the things I’ll be watching as the Browns start their 2021 training camp at Berea:
1. NEW OFFENSIVE WRINKLES
Nobody expects Stefanski to make any significant changes to his attack in 2021. Why would he? He was successful, finishing ninth in DVOA, including seventh in ground DVOA.
But the loss to the Chiefs revealed the need to evolve.
How Stefanski could make it worth looking during camp. Some people think we might see more than 11 people (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR). There is certainly room to increase that because the Browns only used it 41% of the time last season, well below the league average of 60% and less than just two other teams (Vikings, Titans).
Keep in mind, however, that we saw the Browns use quite a few 11 staff during training camp last season as they worked on specific games and packages. This is how we realized that KhaDarel Hodge seemed to be winning the battle for third place receiver. In other words, boot camp can be a difficult place to draw conclusions.
Another area where the attack could escalate is in screen passes to running backs. The Browns placed 19th in attempted screens last season, and only after using him more in the second half of the season. They placed 28th in attempts in the first eight weeks and eighth in the last eight.
Moreover, they succeeded. They placed 10th in screen distance last season and third in the second half of the season. This is the kind of production I would expect throughout the season based on Stefanski’s 2019 offense in Minnesota, when the Vikings placed fourth in assists on screen and first in distance at the screen.
Another wrinkle to watch out for is the sweep jet. With Odell Beckham Jr. and JoJo Natson back in the fold, and the addition of rookie Anthony Schwartz, the Browns have plenty of quick wide receivers. Every throw of the throw at training camp will lead to speculation about how often we’ll see it during the regular season.
According to Sports Info Solutions, NFL defenses played more than ten cents (six defensive backs) than base (four defensive backs) last season, from 20.6% to 17.0%. In fact, the base is not even the real base anymore as the teams played nickel (five defensive backs) 65.7% of the time in 2020.
The Browns, of course, are well equipped to follow this trend. We’ve already seen Woods’ defense play with two linebackers and five defensive backs for most of last season. The question for 2021 is how the new security group will account for the nickel and dime packages.
John Johnson III, Ronnie Harrison and Grant Delpit are expected to be on the pitch together this season, and that’s what I’ll be looking for during camp. How often is this trio available in nickel packaging? How often does Woods go for three no-split Troy Hill safeties on the court?
Other things to watch out for include how often Delpit plays in the slot machine (one of his strengths) and how often Johnson enters the box, where he was one of the best safeties to defend the race. last season (83.9 Pro Football Focus grade, ranked fourth among safeties).
This will all be difficult to decipher during camp as the Browns defense will be training against the Browns offense. It’s an offense that often has multiple tight ends or running backs on the court, usually forcing a defense to respond with more linebackers and fewer defensive backs. In other words, close to traditional base defense.
Nonetheless, I will look for clues when I can.
3. VERSATILITY ON THE DEFENSIVE LINE
A big downside to training camp is the way the defensive line – and defense in general – is restrained as tackling is usually prohibited. A common sight at Berea over the past few years has been Myles Garrett bending to the edge on a course to engulf the quarterback only to stop at the last second or stray from the course.
Good luck with how the Browns will be against the run this season. Most periods of the run are at half speed, with defenders doing little more than slapping the ball as Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt run.
But we can get a glimpse of some schematic ideas. For example, there was a bit of excitement when we saw Genard Avery line up on Garrett’s outside edge during offseason practice in 2018. Avery was second to Garrett in presses as rookie and it was clear the Browns wanted to use it to their advantage.
However, that wrinkle never took hold, as Avery was traded to the Eagles in the middle of the 2019 season. But that’s the kind of versatility many expect from the 2021 defensive line, and that’s something I believe in. supervise during full team exercises.
Will Garrett be pushed inside for a defensive tackle? Will he be on the pitch with Jadeveon Clowney and Takk McKinley, giving the Browns a three-edged attack? Will Malik Jackson come out like he did on over 100 shots last season for the Eagles?
Again, I don’t expect the Browns to reveal all of their secrets in August. But if you’re one of the fans who come to Berea to watch the camp, don’t get too distracted by these position battles.
You might be missing something more revealing.
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