AFC North Notes: Browns, Monken, Ravens

With Jim Schwartz returning to Cleveland after 28 years, then as a scout, now as defensive coordinator, there are some expected changes to how the Browns‘ defense will get things done. Thanks to Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com, we have a bit of insight into just how things might change in the secondary under Schwartz.

At safety, the team exchanged starter John Johnson III¬†with Juan Thornhill while also bringing in veteran Rodney McLeod, as well. Schwartz brings two interesting factors to the safety position: he likes to play three at one time often and he expects versatility. He doesn’t strictly prescribe to free and strong safety assignments but more often tends to focus on sides of the field. Grant Delpit, Thornhill, and McLeod will be interchangeable and will be asked to line up in many areas.

Versatility will be expected of the cornerbacks, as well, as Schwartz has reportedly been crosstraining all of Cleveland’s defensive backs in the slot. This is welcome news for Greg Newsome II, who reportedly wanted to play more to his strengths on the outside this year. He won’t solely work outside, but with Denzel Ward and Martin Emerson also getting work as nickelbacks this summer, Newsome won’t be asked to shoulder the load in the slot alone.

Here are a few more rumors from around the AFC North:

  • Schwartz is excited to be bringing together two strong pass rushers in Myles Garrett and Za’Darius Smith on the Browns’ defensive line, according to Cabot. After a year in which Jadeveon Clowney failed to mesh with Garrett, Schwartz is excited about the flexibility that Smith brings to the table. For one, he’s already had the experience of working across from talented pass rushers like Danielle Hunter, Preston Smith, Matt Judon, Terrell Suggs, and Elvis Dumervil. Secondly, Smith provides a versatile attack that allows him to rush from either side, as well as from the interior, when needed.
  • After four years under a huddle-first Greg Roman offense, the Ravens will allow quarterback Lamar Jackson a bit more agency in the offense under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken. According to a report from ESPN’s Jamison Hensley, Jackson will be given more freedom to audible and make adjustments at the line this season. This is not completely foreign to the recently extended quarterback. Baltimore experimented with this type of offense in a Week 2 game last year against the Dolphins as a counter to Miami’s pressure package. In that game, Jackson threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns while adding 119 yards and a touchdown on the ground, as well. The Ravens will hope to see more of that in 2023, as Jackson is presented with more opportunities to truly lead the offense.
  • We mentioned about two weeks ago that Ravens second-year tackle Daniel Faalele was a candidate to replace former starting left guard Ben Powers, who departed for Denver in free agency in March. Knowing Faalele’s importance in his current role as one of the team’s primary backup tackles, we boiled it down to a battle between Ben Cleveland and John Simpson. A recent report from Hensley, though, claims that head coach John Harbaugh spoke highly of Faalele at the position and refused to rule him out as a potential starter. He praised Simpson’s performance in the position, as well, but it may be time to start considering Faalele as one of the top candidates to start next year.
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