Conor Orr Identifies His Biggest Weakness For Browns, But Is It? That Depends On Perspective
In an article identifying the weakness for teams in the AFC, Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated selected the safety position for the Cleveland Browns. Whether someone wants to agree or disagree with that analysis depends on the perspective with which they are viewing the team.
SAFETY: The Browns upgraded at tight end this offseason and should have a better pass rush now that Myles Garrett has returned from suspension. The offensive line was the biggest overhaul; after the 2019 version was a tremendous miscalculation that cost John Dorsey and Freddie Kitchens their jobs. Cleveland played a good amount of zone defense last year but struggled in their forays into man coverage. They added Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo in free agency then selected Grant Delpit out of LSU in the second round. It’s safe to call that an overhaul on the cheap. But until we know how it works together, the safety position is relatively unproven. - Connor Orr
In a vacuum, there's no position group on the Browns with less proven talent and more question marks than linebacker. There's a far better idea of what to expect this season from the safety position this year in terms of which players contribute than linebacker, where even forecasting the players who will start the year is difficult and none of them is proven.
Where it becomes a subjective argument is considering how much the linebacker position is going to be asked to do within the defensive scheme defensive coordinator Joe Woods is installing. Even he has hinted that the linebacker position isn't going to be asked to do a ton if their approach to that group in free agency and the NFL Draft didn't paint a clear direction.
Meanwhile, Woods has expressed a desire to play a heavy amount of nickel and even shift to a dime scheme where only one linebacker on the field while they would have three safeties and corners on the field.
There are absolutely valid questions to be asked of the safeties for the Browns when they are fielding two safeties. Presumably, Karl Joseph will be the strong safety and either Andrew Sendejo or rookie second round pick Grant Delpit will start at free. They ultimately want to get to a point where they can put all three on the field at once, potentially having Delpit operate from the slot at points. The Browns also have Sheldrick Redwine, who has experience both at free as well as the slot.
The lack of on-field practices might make developing the safety position more difficult. Landmarks are easy enough to practice individually but reading route combinations and reacting to what's going on are more difficult to simulate. If they want Delpit or whoever is in the slot to operate in man coverage, that is another challenge to overcome as the ability to get good practice reps is limited.
By virtue of the amount the Browns likely intend to put on their safeties in this defense, it's not unreasonable to identify them as the weakest area on the field. The linebacker position has less talent and more to prove, but the scheme may simply not ask enough of them to make it more critical than safety.
Regardless on where someone comes out in this discussion, it highlights the challenges for the Browns on defense this year and why attempting to insert the Browns in the playoffs might be difficult due to circumstances beyond their control.