3 reasons for concerns as Browns training camp opens
The Cleveland Browns come into the 2021 training camp full of optimism and hope for a Super Bowl run. After a playoff appearance, and victory, in 2020, the Browns hope that their window for competing has just opened up.
Like all teams, there are bound to be concerns going into training camp. There are universal concerns for every NFL team around freak injuries and, once again this year, COVID-19. Even with the best rosters, those concerns will always be there.
For Cleveland, there are specific concerns to be noted. Thankfully, unlike most years in the past, the concerns are more about how good the team can be versus if the team can actually win some games.
Earlier, we shared the five reasons for excitement before camp, and now want to give the other side of the coin.
Looking at the Browns defense last year makes it clear why Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski focused on revamping it for 2021.
Cleveland added multiple players to each level of the defense through the NFL draft and free agency. While the influx of talent was needed (understatement?) it does ensure significant improvement.
With up to eight new starters in 2021, defensive coordinator Joe Woods will have his work cut out for him getting everyone on the same page this year. While holdovers Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward and Ronnie Harrison can play important roles, that much change can be difficult for a unit.
An added concern is bringing in two defensive ends across from Garrett that both have their warts. Takk McKinley was signed almost immediately in free agency while Jadeveon Clowney wasn’t added until later. Neither are certain to lock down the other defensive end job for years to come and were given just one-year deals.
While injuries are always a concern, the Browns have a number of important players who have poor injury history. Past injuries do not make certain future injuries but they do often lead to more injuries.
Clowney is a prime case of a player who has battled one injury after another throughout his career. McKinley struggled to get on the field last year as well.
Odell Beckham Jr. returns from another leg injury with the hopes that he can still be explosive.
Coming off an Achilles injury, Grant Delpit will have to overcome what many players struggle to. Achilles injuries often limit players upon their returns. Delpit’s young age could help but is something to be aware of.
Greedy Williams and Greg Newsome II will fight for a starting cornerback job but both have had difficulties staying on the field over the last couple of seasons.
Jacob Phillips is expected to compete for a starting linebacker job but, as the rest noted on this list, has had struggles with injuries including knee-related ones last season.
Many NFL players have injury history but Cleveland has a significant amount of important players with nagging or significant injury history. The team will need to be as healthy as possible to reach their goals.
Regression to the Mean?
While Cleveland made the playoffs last year, there was a bit of luck associated with it. While luck is an important part of any season, the Browns luck was fairly impactful as Warren Sharp describes below:
An easy schedule, winning the close games, winning the turnover battle and winning the sack margin are all often random in the NFL. Close games can come down to who won the coin toss or one missed call. Turnovers are often hit or miss due to the shape of the football and a myriad of other details. Sacks are obviously due to the defense’s pass rush and the offense’s ability to protect a quarterback but, for teams, there is variability to it.
In the end, the Browns won last year in a way that is unlikely to be stable. Thankfully, it seems that they are aware which led to the injection of talent on the defensive side of the ball to offset some of the regression to the mean. It is important to note, however, that improvement isn’t certain nor is it often linear in the NFL.