The anticipation has been building forever.
Before Myles Garrett went down with a high right ankle sprain in practice Sept. 6. Before Commissioner Roger Goodell called Garrett’s name as the No. 1 pick in the draft in April. Before he measured 6-foot-4½ and 272 pounds, bench pressed 225 pounds 33 times, vertical jumped 41 inches and ran a 4.64-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine in March.
The image of Garrett flying around the right edge and taking down a quarterback at FirstEnergy Stadium has been in the minds of Browns executives, coaches and fans since Cleveland secured the No. 1 pick in the draft.
The expectation finally has the chance to become reality Sunday afternoon. After missing the first four games, Garrett is scheduled to debut against the New York Jets.
“If healthy, he’ll show the world what he can do,” Texas A&M defensive ends coach Terry Price told The Chronicle-Telegram during the week. “I know he’ll have an instant impact this Sunday and every Sunday.”
The Browns (0-4) drafted Garrett to transform their pass rush and entire defense. Without him, the defense ranks 29th in points allowed (26.8 a game) and has nine sacks.
“Definitely bring life back to the defense,” defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah said. “Getting after the quarterback, he’s very good at that. Really happy to have him back.”
Coach Hue Jackson doesn’t want to put too many expectations on Garrett in his first game. Especially because he just returned to practice Sept. 28 in a limited role and hasn’t played in a game since Aug. 26 in the preseason.
Garrett will also be on a “pitch count” and may only play in passing situations. That’s when he can best show off his explosion off the ball, ability to turn the corner and strength to get through a lineman.
“I would love to see that happen,” Jackson said of Garrett dominating. “That is the plan, but he hasn’t played all year. We are just going to be excited to have him out there, and we will see what kind of impact he can make on this football game.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on Myles. He is a really good player, but we all have to play well.”
Garrett’s job is to pressure the quarterback, and he’s not afraid to apply plenty to himself. Before the draft he said he wanted to be “the greatest that ever played.”
“He came into the league and said what he has since he’s been in high school and when he was at A&M,” Price said. “He wants to be the best. He wants to be Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowler.”
He’s getting a late start, but those goals aren’t out of reach. As long as he’s healthy.
A high ankle sprain can linger, and he wasn’t the same player last season at Texas A&M when he had the same injury on the left leg.
“Any ankle injury for a D-lineman is a tough injury,” Price said. “You base all your power and flexibility on how well your ankle moves.
“Anybody that fast, that athletic, that bends better than anyone I’ve ever had, the injury would affect. But he pushed through when a lot of people wouldn’t attempt to do it.”
Garrett missed two games before returning for the Aggies and wasn’t the same. He finished the season with 8.5 sacks — he had 32.5, 48.5 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles in three years — but draft analysts pointed to a drop-off in performance.
Price saw dedication.
“He came back sooner than others would have,” he said. “It’s a tribute to his toughness. He was able to bounce back and get back on track. And he played well.”
Garrett said this injury isn’t as bad as the one last year, and he vowed not to rush back. The Browns held him out of the game last week to further the recovery.
The waiting is over, and Garrett let the world know by tweeting “Regrese.” It’s Spanish for “I’m back.”
“I guess he knows a language I didn’t know he knew,” Price said. “There’s not much he loves more than football. I know he’s more than excited to get back out there.”
The Browns are thrilled to have Garrett back. His coaches and teammates light up when discussing him and the impact he can have on the defense.
“We’re all waiting for him to perform how he can perform,” defensive tackle Jamie Meder said. “It’s going to be awesome.”
“Myles was the No. 1 overall pick for a reason,” cornerback Jason McCourty said. “We all know he possesses a special type of talent. Just having that caliber of talented player out on the field, we will all benefit from it.”
With Myles lined up on the right side, the Jets will have to decide whether to dedicate a tight end or running back to help left tackle Kelvin Beachum.
“Just having him come off the edge by himself, you can count on him to win those one-on-one matchups a lot of the time,” middle linebacker Joe Schobert said. “That helps everybody else. If they want to try to double or chip him, that helps other guys get their one-on-matchups.”
“It’s going to open up a lot of things for a lot of people because that’s a guy you have to account for,” rookie safety Jabrill Peppers said. “It’s definitely something we’re looking forward to.”
Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger was Garrett’s initial target, but the injury four days before their anticipated Week 1 matchup changed the focus. Josh McCown, New York’s 38-year-old passer, is in his sights and has been known to take a sack, fumble in the pocket and throw an interception.
“He’s very explosive off the edge,” Schobert said. “He’ll make the quarterback speed up his decisions and make quicker passes or make more errant throws if he can get there and cause pressure.”
Left tackle Joe Thomas said it’s fine if the coaches save Garrett for third-down and second-and-long situations as they ease him back into action.
“He’s great against the run, don’t get me wrong, but the impact that a pass rusher can make is huge for a defense,” he said. “We’ve got lots of guys that can defend against the run. Where he’s going to be a difference-maker is third down rushing the passer.”