After months of discussion and consideration, Myles Garrett has a nickname for the defensive line. Pending approval from legal.
“It might be copyrighted, but I was watching the air show the other day. I was like, ‘Dang, we could be the Top Gun,’” the Pro Bowl end told The Chronicle-Telegram on Monday in a one-on-one interview. “That’d be pretty sweet.”
The defensive line boasts several new members and has undergone a philosophical shift under new coordinator Jim Schwartz. The expectations have soared after the additions of ends Za’Darius Smith and Ogbo Okoronkwo and tackles Dalvin Tomlinson and Shelby Harris.
The hype deserved a moniker. Taking it another step, Garrett could be Maverick, Smith Ice Man and Tomlinson Goose.
“I always tell the guys, especially D-ends, ‘We get to the corner, we have to turn and burn.’ So I know that’s the kind of lingo that they talk about, as well,” Garrett said of fighter pilots. “I’m a big Top Gun fan, big fan of the series and (Tom) Cruise. They get behind it, Coach likes it, so I think it’s something we could grow around.”
As the Browns prepare to start the season Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Stadium, much of the excitement can be attributed to the front four.
THE NEED FOR … TALENT
Schwartz, a championship coordinator, was hired in January. His principles, playbook and game plans begin with the line. He believes you win with the pass rush generated by the front four.
“I think he’ll have a huge impact,” Garrett said. “The guys enjoy playing for him already and we like the scheme that he has in as far as the skill set of the guys and what he knows we enjoy doing and what we do best.”
Schwartz inherited one of the NFL’s best in Garrett — a two-time first-team All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler — but the cupboard was bare behind him. General manager Andrew Berry went to work making sure Schwartz had the pieces necessary to execute his vision.
Berry signed Tomlinson (four-year, $57 million deal) and Okoronkwo (three years, $19 million) at the start of free agency in March. He drafted tackle Siaki Ika in the third round and end Isaiah McGuire in the fourth round, as well as signing veteran tackles Harris and Maurice Hurst II.
Berry wasn’t done, saving perhaps his most significant move for last.
With the Vikings in a salary cap crunch and three-time Pro Bowler Za’Darius Smith unhappy with his contract, Berry seized the opportunity. He landed Smith and sixth- and seventh-round draft picks in 2025 in exchange for fifth-round picks in 2024 and 2025. Smith will make $11.75 million this season — the Vikings are paying a portion — and then become a free agent.
“The guy’s a beast,” safety Juan Thornhill said. “I mean, just look at him. Who’s going to stop him? You got him, you got Garrett up front, you got all the other guys. So they’re definitely going to bring the heat, which allows us to make more plays.”
Smith, who’s excited to get back to playing 4-3 end after spending most of his eight-year career as a 3-4 outside linebacker, is arguably the best bookend Garrett’s had since he was the No. 1 pick in 2017.
“With Z, the appeal with him is his versatility,” Berry said. “He’s a high-level rusher who oftentimes people just think of him as an edge guy. But really where he’s particularly skilled is his ability to rush inside over a guard or center. He can do the stuff on the edge really well, but having someone who can win quickly inside just gives you so much versatility to create advantageous matchups to rush the passer.”
Garrett has five straight double-digit-sack seasons and a total of 67.5 over that span. Smith has at least 8.5 sacks in his last four full seasons. Both were NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidates at points last season.
“Off the field, he adds a ton, he’s a veteran, he’s been around and it’s just good for our young players what he brings into that room,” assistant general manager/vice president of football operations Catherine Raiche said of Smith. “And the second fold is obviously on the field, you’ve seen it through preseason. He’s going to be a problem for opposing offenses. He can get off the ball, he can penetrate, he can set an edge, he can sub inside.”
Okoronkwo slides into the No. 3 end role, providing quality depth and allowing Wright and McGuire time to develop. Tomlinson was paid and Harris signed in August to improve the dreadful run defense, bolster defensive chemistry and provide more pass rush from the interior. Schwartz is a big believer in deep rotations across the line, plans to play eight or nine guys a week and is looking for contributions from everyone.
“The tempo that we want those guys to play, we’re going to need to rotate fresh troops in,” Schwartz said. “Offensive lines don’t sub, but we can keep the pressure on those guys and we can play to a high standard with that depth and that’s an important part of what we do.”
TIME TO BUZZ THE TOWER
Schwartz is a fan of catchphrases. He wants the defense to play with “no seatbelts” and lead the league in effort and passion, the line to “mess things up” — the PG version — and his tackles to become Ferraris.
The theme is consistent: Attack.
No taking on double teams, no reading and reacting. Fire off the ball, knock back the offensive line, penetrate the backfield and wreak havoc.
“Attack and then react,” Okoronkwo said. “I’m really excited because I haven’t played in a system like this and I’ve seen a lot of guys have success in this system, the Nick Bosas, the Haason Reddicks. I’m excited.”
Schwartz is a former head coach, in his 15th season as a coordinator and won a Super Bowl with the Eagles after the 2017 season. His style of defense matches his personality: fiery.
“He’s a very intense guy, but if you’re doing your job and you’re doing everything right and you’re reliable, then you’ll see the sunshine,” Okoronkwo said.
Schwartz, who got his start in the NFL with the Browns in 1993 in the personnel department, isn’t shy about sharing his opinion — loudly — and can be an acquired taste. His new players haven’t appeared to have any issues.
“He talks a lot, but other than that I don’t think he’s abrasive at all,” Garrett said. “We’ve had a couple of coaches here that some would consider abrasive or difficult to work with and that’s just really all about your level of maturity and how you choose to respond and receive those things.”
He’s a big fan of Schwartz.
“Level-headed, passionate, knowledgeable and he’s very considerate,” Garrett said. “I don’t mean it in the sweet way, but he thinks a lot of his guys, he’s a player’s coach. That’s the best way I can put it. Really cares about getting to know you and nurturing that relationship.”
Berry and Raiche worked with Schwartz in Philadelphia and endorsed his hiring. Berry believes in an aggressive system that generates negative plays and turnovers and said Schwartz’s fits Garrett to a “T,” calling it a “match made in heaven.”
“Jim is amazing. He’s a unique person, extremely smart,” Raiche said. “He’s just been, honestly, getting the best out of our players just by the discipline he brings on that side of the ball, the way he’s coached, the way he keeps our defense simple but in a way that players can play fast. It’s been really, really nice to see the players embrace this change.”
GREAT BALLS OF FIRE
The energy is matched throughout the position group.
Defensive line coach Ben Bloom goes nonstop during drills, encouraging, admonishing and instructing. The players compete to fire off the ball the fastest. Tomlinson dances. Garrett teaches.
The attitude has translated to production.
Garrett was in the backfield throughout training camp. Smith forced a safety vs. the Commanders by drawing a holding penalty in the end zone. The other linemen won consistently.
The front four hold the key to success. When the pass rush is effective, the cornerbacks don’t have to cover as long and Schwartz can drop more people into coverage. A dominant rush dictates to the offense and demands the quarterback get rid of the ball in a hurry or pay the price.
The organization’s blueprint is to get an early lead with an explosive offense led by quarterback Deshaun Watson, then unleash the dawgs in the second half. The ingredients are in place to have one of the league’s best lines, and cornerback Greg Newsome II thought that was the major takeaway from the two joint practices with the Eagles in Philadelphia.
“They were doing amazing out there against arguably one of the best O-lines in the league,” he said.
“Listen, you’re not going to find a better end-to-end duo in this league,” Eagles All-Pro center Jason Kelce said. “The way Myles rushes the passer, and his pure physicality, how he moves and bends and all that. Za’Darius can do it all, too, he can rush from the edge, he can run games unbelievably.
“It’s no shocker that they have a phenomenal defensive front. I think Dalvin Tomlinson’s a very underrated player, has been for a long time. They have really, really good players. They have really, really smart players.”
TALK TO ME, GOOSE
Bloom moved to defensive line coach after working as run game coordinator the previous two seasons. The job comes with built-in pressure given Schwartz’s emphasis on the position, and longtime line coach Jim Washburn was brought in as an occasional adviser.
“Coach Schwartz and Washburn with the D-line, those two guys have really set the mark of how this attack front should be, how it should look, how you train it, how you build it,” Bloom said. “Look, I’m going to work my butt off to do what the team needs to win. So I’m freaking excited about being the D-line coach for Jim Schwartz.
“He wants guys that can be productive, that can play with high motor, that can mess things up for the offense, that can get off the ball, that run to the ball and that finish on a play-in, play-out basis. And that makes the defenses go. And his most successful defenses at multiple places have been when the D-line does that. We know that, we understand that.”
Garrett was cautious not to prematurely declare this the most talented line he’s been a part of, but his optimism was obvious.
“It’s looked really good and we have good chemistry and that’s what sets this group apart,” he said. “Guys really enjoy being around each other and being involved in each other’s business personally and off the field, maybe with their organizations or how they’re trying to get back to the community. We like sharing in each other’s interests and hobbies, passions.”
His expectations are lofty.
“Dominate like we’re supposed to,” he said. “Don’t want to come out of any games with our heads down and feel like we could have done more.
“It’s always good to want more. I feel like that’s what makes this group special is that everyone wants more for not only themselves but the person around them. I think that’s how you get a really good group when you’re unselfish like that.”