Browns defensive star Myles Garrett chasing greatness, hoping for picture perfect season

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Myles Garrett was in an unfamiliar, vulnerable position. Flat on his back.

Accustomed to shedding blockers to knock down quarterbacks, Cleveland's All-Pro defensive end looked as if he might be ready to take a nap as he stretched out on a padded landing mat inside the Browns' indoor field house this week.

With a Week 1 matchup against Joe Burrow and the Bengals approaching, Garrett was just soaking up a precious chance to relax after practice on an unusually toasty summer morning days ahead of Cleveland's season opener.

The grind is about to get real — time to chase QBs and greatness.

Entering his seventh NFL season, the 27-year-old Garrett swung between playful and reflective during an interview — all done in a supine position — with the AP during which he discussed the massive upgrade to Cleveland's defensive front and other topics ranging from baseball sensation Shohei Ohtani to the challenge of photographing birds.

First, he declined a ping-pong match.

“How about pickleball?” countered Garrett, who recently joined an ownership group for a Major League Pickleball team in Texas — one of his many off-field interests.

Unmistakably, Garrett's game is football, and few do it better than the 6-foot-5, 272-pounder who is never not in peak physical condition. He's coming off a second straight 16-sack season, which was marred by a personal scare when he flipped his Porsche while speeding on a rural road following practice.

The one-car crash triggered criticism about his leadership, and much like his six-game suspension in 2019 for striking Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph in the head with a swung helmet, tarnished his image.

Before a second question could be asked, Garrett conveyed through a team spokesman that he didn't want to discuss the accident.

That aside, Garrett's in a good place mentally and physically as the Browns try to snap back from a 7-10 season shaped by quarterback Deshaun Watson's 11-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

While Garrett produced despite being the most double-teamed rusher in the league, Cleveland's defense underperformed in 2022. Badly.

So the Browns revamped the line by acquiring three-time Pro Bowl end Za'Darius Smith in a trade and signing free agents Dalvin Tomlinson (4 years, $57 million) Ogbo Okoronkwo (3 years, $19 million) and Shelby Harris (1 year, $5.2 million).

The idea was to give offenses more to worry about than just Garrett, who has never had so much help.

“It was a matter of getting the best pieces we can to win,” he said. "I wouldn’t say it was particularly for me, but I definitely see the benefit. And to have such like-minded guys, positive guys who are excited to be here and excited to play ball and just challenging the level set and the standard every single day is huge.

“They come from many different places and seen many different things, but they've also had varying levels of success so they’re trying to apply that here. We need that standard.”

Garrett has set one himself.

He enters the season with 74 1/2 sacks in 84 career games. Since sacks became an official stat in 1982, Garrett is the seventh player to record 10 or more in at least five of his first six seasons. Five of those players are Hall of Famers with Garrett and Buffalo's Von Miller likely bound for enshrinement.

Still, Garrett was recently voted only the game's fifth best defensive lineman in a poll by a panel of AP Football Writers, who noted Cleveland's defensive deficiencies by adding Garrett “has not been the reason.”

“That's an interesting take,” Garrett said when told of the addendum to his ranking. “I don’t think the level of success any person has should be detracted from what the team is doing. You can’t take away from someone’s individual accolades, talent and success just because their team is underachieving."

Like Ohtani?

“Exactly,” he said of the two-way superstar. "He’s the best player in baseball — bar none. But you wouldn’t say because the Angels aren’t very good you can’t see his talent. His talent speaks for itself, it shines every time this man plays. That’s the case for multiple players across the league, not just myself.

“That’s a sports thing in general. You have to be able to look at the player and dissect him as an individual, not just what occurs for the whole team.”

As a whole, the Browns have been consistently disappointing — or worse — since Garrett arrived as the No. 1 overall pick in 2017.

Cleveland went 0-16 in Garrett's rookie season, made the playoffs just once and gone 39-58-1 in his tenure.

That's not to say his time with the Browns has been all bad. The 27-year-old has matured, earning the respect of teammates with his work ethic and on-field exploits.

“A beast,” said safety Rodney McLeod. ”What can’t he do? He’s Superman out here."

Garrett has been something of a hero off the field, partnering with the Boys & Girls Club on educational initiatives and being named the first science ambassador for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

He has long considered himself as a nerd, whether studying paleontology or dabbling into the fantasy world of “Dungeons & Dragons.”

Around the time he was drafted, the former Texas A&M star developed an interest in photography. He sharpened his skills taking photos of African wildlife on trips to Tanzania and Kenya while aiding efforts to provide drinking water to impoverished areas.

He's intrigued by the challenge of framing a subject, finding the perfect light, angle and moment.

“It's really about patience,” he said.

Garrett's had to learn that.

So what does a perfect photo of the 2023 season look like?

“Oh, man,” he said, pausing. “Holding up that trophy at the end, that’s it. All the other stuff is secondary.”