Well, that was quick. After Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson insisted he would be taking it slow with his No. 1 overall pick, it appears Garrett’s work thus far in Berea has earned himself the right to show what he can do against the team’s first-string offense.
Since he arrived on the scene, the Browns have wasted no time in educating Garrett on how to succeed at the NFL level. Whether it’s the tutelage of teammate Joe Thomas or the mentorship and coaching of Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith, the team has surrounded Garrett with loads of top-shelf information. On Wednesday, the ever-athletic defensive end was seen lining up alongside the Browns’ starting defensive unit, going against Thomas in live drills, not just leveraging his otherworldly athleticism, but showing what he has learned to this point.
“It is time,” said Jackson of Garrett’s ascent up the depth chart. “As I said the other day, you can only keep guys down so long. You just start watching every day, and when you see what he is doing, he is doing a good job. I didn’t really just watch the individual battle – I will watch it on tape a little bit more – but I am sure those guys had a conversation. If anybody can give him some good instruction on what they have seen through the years it is going to be Joe, and then it is good for Joe to go against somebody with that kind of explosion and that kind of speed and quickness.”
While Joe Thomas will make most veteran defensive ends look like rookies, there was a moment in Wednesday’s action where the Texas A&M product toasted the perennial Pro Bowler off the snap.
“I know I saw a blur going around me,” said Jackson. “I didn’t know who was over there. I’m not surprised by anything he does. He just has to do it every day. You have to do it every day and keep getting better.”
As luck would have it, Garrett would run with the first team on a day where Thomas was practicing—he has been given routine days off heading into the regular season—and Smith was in town as a special guest of Jackson’s, working exclusively with the defensive line. Jackson worked with Smith in Washington where the two built a relationship, and Smith has been working with Garrett throughout his path to the NFL. Mix in Gregg Williams and Clyde Simmons and the coaching fraternity was quick to welcome Smith with open arms, where he would have expanded focus on Garrett’s session.
Though Garrett has already put himself with the first group, the Browns are by no means kowtowing to their first-overall pick. Days earlier in training camp, Garrett appeared to have earned himself a sack, but the team has been stingy in giving him full credit for them when it comes to counting stats. Find Garrett after practice, and there’s a chance that the No. 1 pick is carrying the helmets and pads of his teammates, only to come back out on to the field and bust out 100-yard sprints. Compared to most rookies, Garrett has excelled at the mental part of the game one week in, playing both inside and outside on the defensive line, a key ingredient for Williams’ versatile system.
“He has earned it,” said Jackson. “I can only keep him down there for so long. You have to start pushing him up. He is doing a good job. He is earning it. That is what we feel. We feel like every day when we watch the tape, you keep watching him get better and better and better and better. He is in better shape, he understands our system better and he knows exactly what to do so he is starting to play a lot better.”