The longest offseason in memory is finally coming to an end, and in just a few days the NFL will be playing actual games that count. The Cleveland Browns kick-off their season by welcoming the defending AFC North champions, the Cincinnati Bengals to the shores of Lake Erie.
Both teams enter the 100th Battle of Ohio with several household names on each sideline. But in marquee matchups like this, there is always at least one unknown commodity that puts themselves on the map. For the Browns, that player is defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo.
It's easy to see why a player like Okoronkwo, who goes by Ogbo or ‘Big O’, could fly under the radar playing on a team with defensive ends like Myles Garrett and Za’Darius Smith. While Garrett and Smith will get all of the headlines heading into the season opener, it could very well be Okoronkwo that tilts the balance in the Browns favor.
From the day Ogbo signed with Cleveland in free agency up until the team traded for Smith, Okoronkwo was set to be the presumed starter opposite of Garrett. While I'm sure that Ogbo was initially disheartened by the relegation back to a reserve role, the fact remains that Okoronkwo is going to play a vital role for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Schwartz loves to overwhelm offensive lines with waves of fresh pass rushers, which is a role that Ogbo is perfect for. Many of his snaps on crucial third downs won’t be as a reserve, but instead part of a sub-package where Schwartz kicks Smith down as a defensive tackle and allows Okoronkwo to work from the outside.
There's no sweeter sound to a defensive end’s ears than to be given the directive to ‘go hunt’. For a Bengals offensive line that will already have their hands full with Garrett and company, having to deal with Okoronkwo coming off the edge like a heat-seeking missile could prove to be a bridge too far.
If Ogbo is able to get home on Burrow a few times on Sunday, that old ‘Takk McKinley role’ might be due for a name change.