Cleveland Browns secondary looking to rebound in 2016
By Thomas Moore
The Cleveland Browns secondary is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2015 season, and a newfound optimism from the coaching staff is helping.
The quartet of players who made up the starting secondary for the Cleveland Browns in 2015 talked a good game throughout training camp and the preseason.
The group was coming off a successful first year in former head coach Mike Pettine’s defense and were openly talking about how they were ready to challenge the Legion of Boom in Seattle for the title of the NFL’s best secondary.
Then, as often happens with the Browns, the regular season began and reality set in.
Age caught up with strong safety Donte Whitner, free safety Tashaun Gipson was ineffective after returning from a season-ending knee injury, cornerback Joe Haden was limited to five games due to injuries and multiple concussions, and cornerback Tramon Williams became so disenfranchised with former defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil that his heart was clearly not in the game by the end of the season.
“I’m all in — just like everybody in this city of Cleveland is all in — I’m all in.” – cornerback Tramon Williams
Add it all up and the Browns finished a disappointing 22nd overall against the pass and a disheartening 29th by allowing 34 touchdown passes.
Fast forward to now, and while the braggadocio has been turned down (at least for now), there is a renewed confidence that the secondary can get things back on track in 2016.
Part of the optimism comes from the hope that Haden will make a return to health this year, and that youngsters like Ibraheim Campbell and Jordan Poyer can take over for Gipson and Whitner.
It also comes, as much of the optimism surrounding the Browns, from effervescent head coach Hue Jackson.
“If you can get and breed confidence into a group of guys that have the ability, that says a lot,” according to Williams. “A lot of coaching staffs and coaches, some guys just don’t know how to get the best out of their players. And the way Hue has come in here, been positive, he acknowledges everybody on the team from the last guy to the best guy on the team.
“He’s going to give everybody compliments and he does it in an individual fashion that you won’t see around this league. So I really commend what’s he’s come in here and done so far.”
Defensive backs coach Louie Cioffi is also riding the optimism train as he works to mold a group of defensive backs that, outside of Haden, Tramon Williams and K’Waun Williams, are not very experienced at the NFL level.
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“It’s a very young group with two veterans, really. There’s a lot of opportunity for guys, both at the nickel position and the corner position,” Cioffi told the team’s website. “You can never have enough corners in this league. This is a passing league. The more guys we have that can compete and be ready to play for us, the better off we will be in the long run.
“I always approach that every time you go into a situation that everyone starts on the same page. Right now, in the defensive backs’ room, we have 19 players. That’s 19 different personalities. My goal, as a coach is to get the very best out of those players and to get them to reach their goals.
“I give everyone the benefit of the doubt. It’s really an old saying, ‘I see better than I hear.’ As long as they are doing what I see, we’re good to go.”
The members of the secondary have toned down the talking and focused on working this off-season, which after the year they put up in 2015 is a good idea.
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Whether or not it makes a difference once the games start for real this fall remains to be seen. But for now the optimism, much like everything else surrounding the Browns, remains high, which is a very good thing.