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Jordan Elliott attacked his self-doubt and is now attacking offenses more freely

Jordan Elliott was shaken by last season.

Things got so dark, he wondered about a future in the NFL.

The defensive tackle, a third-round pick in 2020, had rededicated himself in the 2022 offseason, training harder than he had before his first two NFL seasons. The improvement was praised by coaches and teammates and he became a full-time starter for the first time.

His performance once the season started wasn’t what anyone wanted.

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“I had doubts,” Elliott told The Chronicle-Telegram this week. “I didn’t even know if I was even cut out for this, for the NFL. Just being real.”

Elliott spoke as the Browns (4-3) prepared to face the Arizona Cardinals (1-7) on Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Browns, with the return of quarterback Deshaun Watson, look to rebound from a heartbreaking loss to the Seahawks and regain momentum before games at Baltimore and home vs. the Steelers.

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As one of the two men in the middle last year, Elliott was blamed for the terrible run defense (25th in the NFL). The organization recognized the deficiencies at tackle, signing Dalvin Tomlinson (four years, $57 million), Maurice Hurst II and Shelby Harris as free agents and drafting Siaki Ika in the third round.

Elliott returned for the final season of his rookie contract, but his future seemed tenuous. After all, Pro Football Focus had graded him 40.4, which ranked 193rd among interior linemen and last for anyone with his number of snaps.

“You got guys saying you are a bum,” Elliott said. “I mean, worst D-tackle in the league, sh**, it kind of leaves a taste in your mouth.

“At first I kind of let it get to me. But now I use it as fuel.”

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The process wasn’t easy. He heard the criticism from inside and outside the team facility.

“Everybody,” he said.

He felt like he deserved it.

“Sh**, I mean, yeah,” he said. “You go out there and not produce all you need to, what do you expect? So definitely.”

He had 36 tackles, five for loss, with two sacks, three quarterback hits and two passes defensed in 17 starts. Coordinator Joe Woods was fired after the season.

Elliott took a lot from the experience and trauma.

“That I needed to get better,” he said. “It was a tough year just being crucified but you got to live and learn.”

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The consensus among coaches and teammates is he did just that. Elliott kept a roster spot and starting job and has 1.5 sacks and 10 tackles, including two for loss, in seven starts. He’s been a disruptive force, earning unsolicited praise from new coordinator Jim Schwartz.

“I thought Jordan Elliot might’ve played his best game that we’ve seen him play,” Schwartz said after the win over the Colts. “He’s really, really improved for us. He’s starting to master the technique of attack. He’s a big man, saw him get a sack, but not just a sack, his presence in the inside run game has really, really improved.”

Elliott called Schwartz’s attack scheme “the perfect fit” for him, saying he’s “definitely” playing the best he ever has.

“He’s playing really, really well, and I agree that he’s playing at his highest level,” defensive line coach Ben Bloom told The Chronicle. “The guy that you see on a daily basis, he’s just incredibly mature and focused. Any noise around him, anything that could possibly distract him, doesn’t ever really affect him.

“He’s always dialed in and listening in meetings, he asks great questions. He’s really thorough in how inquisitive he is because he wants to get it right. He’s got so much pride in doing it right, and he’s got so much pride in doing his part to help the team win.”

Elliott hasn’t been perfect — the run defense has been inconsistent overall — and Pro Football Focus remains critical, grading him 49.0, which ranks 143rd among interior linemen. But the growth in Elliott has been obvious physically and mentally.

“Honestly, just the only way for me to get past it was just to go out there and to perform at a higher level,” he said of the self-doubt. “I feel like that kind of gave me confidence just weeks ago and building off of that. Just something to believe in.”

The Colts game was a signature moment in his journey. He had a sack while matched up against five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson and could feel the confidence grow.

“Especially going against guys like Quenton Nelson and dominating them,” Elliott said. “To know that I can do that is kind of one of those things that, OK, now just keep going, keep pushing. Don’t get complacent. Just make sure that you’re doing everything you can to be at that level consistently.”

Defensive end Myles Garrett is in his fourth season playing next to Elliott. He’s seen the change this year.

“He’s been more even-keeled. He’s really locked in and made a decision to do the best he can and control what he can control,” Garrett told The Chronicle. “At the end of the day, it’s not always in our hands and most of life is just reacting to the cards you’re dealt. And he’s done a great job of not allowing the little stuff to get under his skin.”

Bloom’s in his first year as the line coach after spending the previous two as run game coordinator. He saw a big switch in Elliott’s approach before 2022.

“You can’t be more thorough, more detailed, more hardworking, more focused than him,” Bloom said. “That’s really the most important thing you have, assuming you got enough natural ability and talent to play. And he does have plenty of that, too.”

Elliott is 6-foot-4, 303 pounds. The physical tools have been sharpened with better, more consistent technique in the run game and extra work to fine-tune his power pass rush moves.

“He’s got size, he’s got length, he’s got explosion, he’s got toughness,” Bloom said. “So now it was just a factor of doing the techniques over and over and doing them well more consistently. And that’s how you’re going to build the confidence.

“He’s got a lot of things to be proud about and be confident about that should carry him into every week and every play because he’s done it at a high level.”

When Bloom took over the defensive line room, he told Elliott his skill set was “fantastic” for Schwart’s scheme. Elliott’s become a believer.

“It just allows you to go,” he said. “You don’t have to basically be an O-lineman for the linebackers. We get to just go disrupt.”

Linebacker and captain Anthony Walker Jr. sees Elliott having more fun.

“That attack front really allows your personality to show,” Walker told The Chronicle. “He’s able to get in the backfield. He’s always been strong, always been athletic, but he’s able to just go think freely and just go play and have fun playing. He’s able to make more plays.”

Elliott appreciates the Browns sticking with him and plans to keep grinding.

“It wasn’t like it was just given to me. That’s something that I want to just reiterate. But it’s big-time,” he said of the support. “I worked hard to get to where I’m at right now. I’m not done yet. There’s a lot of growth left. So I’m going to just keep on moving forward, trying to get 1 percent better every day.”

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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