As new head coach Kevin Stefanski and his defensive coordinator Joe Woods look to turn around the fortunes of a team full of recent sorrows, 2020 has already brought adversity. A year ago, quite possibly the biggest hole on the roster of the Cleveland Browns was their defensive tackles. They attempted to upgrade this unit, but as training camp is now underway in Cleveland, the Browns are once again facing questions along the interior of their defensive front.
Looking back at the 2019 defensive tackles for the Browns
A year ago, the Browns’ high hopes quickly came crashing down, leading to the dismissal of head coach Freddie Kitchens and general manager John Dorsey. What was a significant failure of Dorsey during his time in Cleveland? Failing to provide adequate depth along the interior of the defensive line.
Sure, he brought in former first-round pick and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson as a free agent a year ago, but Dorsey never committed further than two-deep to the position. Instead, he chose to fill the bottom of the roster and defensive tackle depth with undrafted free agents and guys who had bounced around the league.
Dorsey showed zero interest in adding adequate depth
Outside of Richardson and now fourth-year pro Larry Ogunjobi, the rest of the defensive tackle unit on the roster included the likes of no-name players such as Devaroe Lawrence, Daniel Ekuale, and Eli Ankou. The former Browns’ GM failed to build in any margin for error, and it cost him his job.
The level of play of the unit, even when Richardson and Ogunjobi were on the field, was not performing at a high level, and it was even worse when both missed time with injuries or had to come off the field for a breather. This is an inadequacy new general manager Andrew Berry quickly addressed.
New faces to the defensive tackles group in 2020
In his first offseason as the GM of the Browns, Berry added not one, but two defensive tackles to the roster to upgrade the overall health of the unit. After seeing the struggles of Ogunjobi from the year before, and Richardson’s large cap hit that the Browns could potentially opt out of after the 2020 season, Berry added young talent to the roster.
Browns struck the iron while hot with Andrew Billings in free agency
Up first, Berry acted quickly in free agency to strike a deal with the ascending Andrew Billings, a player who was touted as athletically gifted after his NFL Scouting Combine back in 2016. After four years down I-71 with the Cincinnati Bengals, the Browns added not only a depth player but a man who could pose a threat to Ogunjobi’s starting job.
Another young defensive tackle joins the Browns early in the 2020 NFL Draft
Then the 2020 NFL Draft rolled around, and the Browns and Berry again added young talent to their defensive tackles unit in the form of Jordan Elliott. Landing the former Missouri defensive tackle in the third round of last April’s NFL Draft, Elliott will look to contribute right away in a rotational role for defensive coordinator Woods.
Two steps forward, one step back at defensive tackle
The Browns were hit with some hard news this week as Billings, their new addition to the defense, decided to opt-out of the 2020 season. Now the Browns enter camp again with Richardson and Ogunjobi as the only defensive tackles on the roster with substantial experience on the field at the NFL level.
Veteran names the Browns could add to replace Billings
Despite it already being August, there are still some dependable veteran names the Browns could turn to serve as placeholders in their 2020 campaign after the Billings news.
The most tantalizing name among them given his experience and age is former Baltimore Raven and Philadelphia Eagle Timmy Jernigan. At just 28 years old, Jernigan has proven to be a solid pass-rushing depth piece and has amassed 51 career starts over the first six seasons of his career.
Other older, more seasoned vets include Damon “Snacks” Harrison, Mike Daniels, and Marcell Dareus. While the Browns have yet to add any of these names, they may ultimately decide to put more responsibility on their youngest member of the defensive tackles group in the rookie Elliott.
Elliott set to learn via trial by fire
While the Browns intended to ease Elliott into his role as a rookie, neither he nor the team will have such a luxury anymore after Billings’ decision. Despite just joining the team in the 2020 NFL Draft, Elliott now looks like the first man off the bench in a rotational role from the crop of defensive tackles and faces a significant increase in snaps.
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Optimism is not abundant with this unit after losing Billings for the year. Hopefully, either the current veterans step up, the Browns add another big body to the group, or Elliott becomes a budding star. If one of those situations plays out, they could be bailed out along their defensive front. Uncertainty remains with this group of defensive tackles for the Browns in 2020, but at least they have the experience of Richardson and Ogunjobi to lean on early.