The only way Myles Garrett would’ve looked more relaxed was in a hammock and flip-flops.
As the reporter approached for their annual interview prior to the start of the season, Garrett lay flat on his back on a large orange pad used to cushion the blow when players dive during drills. The 6-foot-4, 272-pound defensive end had discarded his helmet, jersey and shells after practice.
Garrett did the entire 12-minute interview in the same supine position, hands behind his head. The image matched his personal goal for the season, which begins Sunday against the Bengals at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
“Play freely,” he told The Chronicle-Telegram on Monday. “It’s about playing with no pressure, no burdens. It’s a new year, it’s a new team. Don’t worry about the outside noise, whether that’s offense, defense, special teams.
“We have the world in front of us and we have a whole bunch of talent. We have a bunch of guys that enjoy being around each other and want to see each other prosper. You don’t get that a lot across the league. You usually have some kind of a hiccup or some kind of bump in the communication or in the chemistry. Right now, everyone’s on the same page, everyone’s on board and you can’t squander opportunities you have like that. So I want to see us really just maximize the potential that we have and have fun doing it.”
Garrett, 27, is a two-time first-team All-Pro, a four-time Pro Bowler and could join Hall of Famer Reggie White (1986-88) as the only players with 16 sacks in three straight seasons. The perception lingers that Garrett could do more.
As he strives for freedom, he acknowledged getting distracted by things he couldn’t control in the past, such as the coaching or struggles of the offense.
“I feel like the majority of us did,” he said. “It’s hard not to get caught in stuff like that, but you have to have a level of maturity and focus and discipline to center yourself, center your teammates and bring everyone back on the task at hand and right the ship. And it’s easier said than done for some people, but we have a lot of leaders and a lot of people who are willing to step up and be leaders when the time comes. So I think that won’t be a problem.”
A year later
The outside expectations for Garrett are immense and include strong leadership, which critics have questioned if he provides. He’s more introverted and not as vocal as many traditional locker room leaders but was voted a captain for the second straight season and has been more hands on in tutoring the young ends.
His tenure hasn’t been without flaws. He was suspended for the final six games in 2019 after hitting Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph with a helmet and missed a loss to the Falcons last year with shoulder and biceps injuries sustained when he wrecked his Porsche 911 Turbo in a one-car crash.
Not being available for his team deserves scrutiny, and Garrett was asked how the accident changed him.
“I’m very grateful for still being here and happy I still get to play this game with this group of guys,” he said. “And it was very possible, if things were slightly different, the effect could have been majorly different.
“So very grateful that I had such a good group of people around me, friends, family, organization that was here for me when I needed it. And I had to adjust my game that season to compensate for things that I was going through. But I feel like we’re now full-tilt and I can give my all to my team how it should be.”
Garrett didn’t want to spend much time reflecting on the accident, which followed a history of speeding.
“I remember my dad telling me a story what made him slow down,” he said. “So I feel like there’s always something that makes us re-evaluate what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”
The accident was another reminder that one decision can have a significant impact on the team.
“The Browns will always be the Browns, that name on the front of the jersey, whether I’m there or not there, it’s going to carry on and continue to be as great as it is,” Garrett said. “But those players that are on that team, they’ll feel the impact of me not being there, whether it’s my leadership or whether it’s my play on the field through the week or on Sundays. Being able to be there for them is a privilege and an honor.
“So not being there, I know that that’s definitely felt and I don’t like letting people down, disappointing people, especially the guys that we’ve worked so hard around and with. So I’m just glad that we’re in this situation now.”
A little help
The line was transformed around Garrett in the offseason, creating optimism the defense will be significantly improved. With tackle Dalvin Tomlinson and ends Za’Darius Smith and Ogbo Okoronkwo lined up next to him, the hope is offenses won’t be able to devote as much attention to Garrett.
“Any one of them can get off themselves. They can all win one-on-ones,” he said. “But if I got to get double-teamed to take pressure off of them and allow them to make plays, so be it. It’s not about my numbers or them helping me, it’s about how we can help each other. We all want to see each other prosper and however the offense chooses to attack us, we’re going to try to exploit them in whatever weaknesses that they display.”
Garrett was the most double-teamed edge rusher in the league last year but still managed 16 sacks to tie the franchise record he set the previous year. He has 74.5 sacks in 84 career games, along with 142 quarterback hits, 77 tackles for loss, 13 forced fumbles, 13 passes defensed and four fumble recoveries.
He wouldn’t go as far as to call the consistent double teams a badge of honor.
“It’s a level of respect,” he said. “Some teams, especially how they do it with the tight end on the line or tight end following me wherever I go, teams are saying, ‘We’re picking this guy, putting a circle on him and we’re going to try and take him out the game.’ And so it’s like a challenge in a way.”
The goal of the revamped front is to make the choices difficult for the offense.
“The more guys you can throw at an offense, and what you’re trying to do is create one-on-ones,” coach Kevin Stefanski said. “Now, ultimately, you’d love to create one-on-ones for everybody at times, but you know that Myles gets a lot of attention. So that’s something that the other side has to think long and hard about, how they want to dedicate their protection plan. Do they want to slide to Myles? Do they want to put a tight end over there? Do you want to put a running back over there? Do you want to max protect? Those are all things that each week teams think about when facing our rush.”
The freedom missing during games was abundant during training camp. Garrett wasn’t allowed to hit quarterback Deshaun Watson, so left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. was left to block him one-on-one as the offense concentrated on executing its plays.
Garrett dominated the matchup but wasn’t ready to say this was his best camp in seven years.
“I don’t really think about it like that, particularly for myself,” he said, adding his big toe feels good after it was dislocated in February running the obstacle course at the Pro Bowl. “I’m sitting down, I’m watching film, I’m studying the other guys and trying to find things I can help them and try to motivate them.
“And I’m picking things up on myself. How can I improve this rep right here? Whatever it is, find something. Whether it’s the burst I had after disengaging from a block or going for the ball and just trying to find what it is to take the next step, and there’ll never stop being steps. No matter what kind of success that we have, we can always continue to improve.”
That’s the attitude Stefanski wants.
“I talked to him and all our guys about we want the best version of our guys and myself included,” he said. “So you hope that every year you’re getting a little bit better at something and another lap around the sun gives you some good perspective in that way. So, yeah, I put Myles in that category of somebody that’s constantly growing, constantly getting better.”
That’s a scary thought for opponents.
“Myles is a beast,” said safety Rodney McLeod, who signed in the offseason. “What can’t he do? He’s Superman out here and you’ll see him running sprints with us in the DB group to being over there (with the) D-line. It is impressive to watch him up close and personal over this time and you really witness just what makes him great and it’s all the little things that he does on a daily basis.”