Stopping the run is an 11-man job.
But one large man can have a tremendous impact.
New Browns defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson expects that from himself after signing a four-year, $57 million deal, including $27.5 million guaranteed. He’s the signature addition of general manager Andrew Berry’s free agent approach focused on improving the defense.
“As a defensive lineman, I just feel like going into each season there’s always a lot of pressure to stop the run because if you can’t stop the run, you’ll never get to pass rush,” Tomlinson said Thursday on a Zoom call. “Just want to come in and help everybody across the whole front so we can be one unit up front to stop the run as much as possible.”
Starting in Week 4 last year, the Browns got run over. They ended the year ranked 25th against the rush (135.2 a game) and allowed at least 130 yards 10 times in the final 14 games.
Tomlinson (6-foot-3, 325 pounds) is being relied on to change that.
“I think I’m a great run defender,” he said. “I just feel like what makes me good in that role would have to be just being disruptive, being physical throughout from the point of attack to the end of the play. You just have to be physical throughout the whole play and every single play.”
Veteran coordinator Jim Schwartz was hired to replace the fired Joe Woods, giving the Browns confidence improved scheme and coaching will have an impact as well as an upgrade in talent. Berry has agreed to free agent deals with end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, safety Juan Thornhill and defensive tackles Maurice Hurst and Trysten Hill. He re-signed linebacker Sione Takitaki.
Tomlinson, 29, said he’s had a lot of communication with Schwartz, who conveyed how he plans to use him. Tomlinson honed his skills as a three-time state champion wrestler in Georgia and believes he’ll have a great chance to flourish in Schwartz’s attacking scheme, which was a big reason he picked the Browns.
“It’s based all on attacking, get off the ball pretty much,” Tomlinson said. “And being able to use my power more to my advantage as of attacking everybody I line up against, I feel like it’s the best fit for me.”
Schwartz prefers to line up the ends wide. It can put extra pressure on the tackles and linebackers against the run, but Tomlinson is a fan.
“It’s super exciting,” he said. “Space on the inside, it’s hard to come by these days. So the more space you can have is also amazing. It just gives you that much more room to attack the offensive line.”
Tomlinson was a second-round pick by the Giants in 2017 out of the University of Alabama and has appeared in 93 games, all starts. He has 288 career tackles, 13 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He started 13 games last season and had 44 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
He’s happy to join All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett, who has 16 sacks in each of the last two years despite not having a big-time tackle inside of him.
“Me and Myles Garrett came in on the same draft class and I was super excited to play next to him and he’s one of those freak athletes,” Tomlinson said. “He is truly a generational player, so I’m super excited to play with him.”
Tomlinson said his pass rush ability shouldn’t be measured just by sacks, noting getting push up the middle forces the quarterback to move and leads to sacks for others. He expects his stats to increase in Schwartz’s scheme while he also helps free Garrett.
“We’re both going to demand a lot of attention and just even if we’re on the same side, you can’t double-team everybody up front,” Tomlinson said. “That’s the biggest thing. And just the more chemistry we’re going to build with each other through OTAs and training camp and all those things and just playing off of each other, I feel like the sky’s the limit.”
Tomlinson and Garrett sound like kindred spirits. Garrett’s eclectic off-field interests are well-known to Browns fans — dinosaurs, art, poetry, old music — and Tomlinson builds gaming PCs, draws, plays a variety of instruments and loves Marvel Comics.
“It’s definitely going to be a great friendship blossoming right there,” he said. “Just growing up, my mom always said if you have an interest in something, pursue it. So I had a lot of interests as a kid, if it was video games, drawing, different sports and things of that nature. So just every time I want to try something new, I always just go for it, for the most part.”
Coach Kevin Stefanski mentioned Tomlinson’s high character and being a “great teammate and leader.” He was the Giants’ Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee in 2020 and the NFL Players Association’s Community MVP in Week 9 last year.
Tomlinson wound up playing for coach Nick Saban at Alabama but could’ve gone a completely different direction.
“Growing up I used to always tell everybody, ‘I’m going to Harvard when I grow up,’ that I want to go Harvard and get a Harvard degree because academics are super huge in my household,” he said. “You had to have good grades or you’re not playing football or you’re not going to be wrestling or doing track or baseball.
“And I remember Harvard came to my high school and gave me a full academic scholarship and said you could play football, too. So I was super excited with that one, but it was a tough choice. ’Bama stole my heart because football was always my first love.”