The NFL has set an official training camp start date for 30 of the league’s 32 teams on July 27. That will mark almost exactly 11 months since Cleveland Browns safety Grant Delpit suffered a torn Achilles tendon, and Delpit has that late-July date circled for his return to the team’s practice fields.
“It has been a lot … (just) an eye-opening experience for me,” Delpit said this week. “I have done a lot to come back in my rehab, and I’m just doing all of that right now. I am doing sprints, cutting and all of that. I’m just on the back end of my rehab now and trying to get rid of that annoying pain. It is coming along, and I should be ready by training camp.”
Delpit’s anticipated return looms as a large piece of the Browns’ offseason defensive makeover. Internally, there were high hopes for Delpit after the Browns drafted him in the second round in 2020, but his rookie season ended not even two full weeks into camp. The Browns eventually traded for Ronnie Harrison and this March signed John Johnson III to a big-money free-agent deal, but it’s fair to assume Delpit is still in the team’s plans.
It wasn’t long after Delpit suffered the injury that defensive coordinator Joe Woods said the Browns didn’t have another player on the roster with Delpit’s versatility. Woods had envisioned using the 6-foot-2, 213-pounder all over the field, so the Browns lost both a potential playmaker and a section of their defensive playbook when Delpit went down.
This offseason was about getting Woods better players — and giving him better options. On a traditional depth chart, the safe assumption is that Johnson would be the free safety and either Harrison or Delpit would be the strong safety. But even if the Browns don’t often play all three safeties together, they probably won’t be in a base defense much. Woods told the team’s official radio show last month that he had envisioned playing as many as 400 snaps of a dime defense — six defensive backs — last season. Due to the loss of Delpit and various other personnel issues, Woods said the Browns only played 16 snaps of dime all of last season.
Even if Delpit doesn’t take on a full load right away, he joins his more experienced teammates in providing position versatility. Harrison is entering the final year of his rookie contract and could achieve free agency before his 25th birthday, so he’ll be plenty motivated to show the Browns he’s worth keeping. Pro Football Focus charted Johnson as playing 408 of his 1,025 defensive snaps for the Rams last season as a box safety. He played 351 snaps at free safety and 230 at slot cornerback, which can mean he was still at box safety but lined up wider than he was when judged as a box safety based on the offensive formation.
“It could be series to series, game to game,” Woods said earlier this spring. “We can let those guys move around on their own. We can create a special package with them just because of their versatility.”
At cornerback, Denzel Ward will be a starter; the only question on a big contract extension for Ward seems to be exactly when it will be finalized. The other starting cornerback job could come down to a training camp battle between first-round pick Greg Newsome and Greedy Williams, who’s working his way back after missing all of last season with a nerve issue in his shoulder.