Young talent helped Browns land former Cardinals coach Steve Wilks

New DC has high expectations for Garrett, Peppers; says Rooney Rule still working in the NFL

Daryl Ruiter
February 07, 2019 - 8:06 pm

Daryl Ruiter-92.3 The Fan

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Berea, OH (92.3 The Fan) – Steve Wilks had no desire to take a year off from football.

It would have been understandable if he wanted to take a break.

Despite getting just 1 season in Arizona as head coach, Wilks couldn’t wait to get back to work and he wanted to come to Cleveland.

“That is just what I love to do and having the passion and love to be around the game, and to be honest, when things like that happen you want to get right back to work,” Wilks said Thursday during his introductory press conference. “I was very excited to do that and most importantly, do it here.”

The Cardinals fired Wilks following a 3-13 season that netted them the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Wilks could’ve easily complained that he wasn’t given a fair shake, or enough time to build a program and team but he didn’t do that when asked about being fired.

“This is a production-based league. We did not win enough games,” Wilks said.  

The Browns are expected to win games in 2019 and Wilks can see why starting with Baker Mayfield. It’s what brought him to Cleveland in the first place.

“You can’t win in this league if you don’t have a quarterback and we have a quarterback,” Wilks said. “We have a quarterback. Not only do we have one, we have one that I consider to be from my studying and the things I learned from him coming out of college is he is an alpha male. He affects not only the offensive side of the ball but this team, and that was very attractive coming here.

“When you look at Myles, you look at Ward, you look at Peppers and young players that I think can have a major impact on the defensive side of the ball, it is very exciting. You look at the direction as I mentioned before with Dorsey and how he is building this team and the things he is doing and Freddie – young, energetic, new head coach – excited about the things he is trying to do…It was a good fit for me.”

Wilks was among 5 African American head coaches that were fired. Of the 8 head coaching jobs that opened, only 1 was filled by an African American raising questions as to whether or not the NFL’s Rooney Rule was still working.

“I do think it is working,” Wilks said. “Every owner has their own expectations and the things they want. I think it is about production. It is about winning. Does it take time? Yes. You look at any Fortune 500 company in the United States, they will tell you that when someone comes in and takes it over, it is going to take some time. You just wish you had that time.

“I think the Rooney Rule is working. I think it is effective. The coaches have to understand that this is a production-based business. That’s what it’s all about.”

Anxious to put Arizona behind him, Wilks hopes to build his defense on what’s already here and he has no plans to switch the base scheme, which gets overblown anyway.

“Even teams that are 3-4, 70-percent of what they are doing is a 4-3 base because teams aren’t really in 21 personnel anymore,” Wilks said. “This game is to the point to where they are spreading you out so you are going to be in a four-down look, which is a 4-3.”

Defensively for the Browns, it starts with Myles Garrett.

Garrett totaled 13 ½ sacks, 29 quarterbacks hits and 12 tackles for loss last season earning him his first Pro Bowl nod but Wilks feels Garrett has only scratched the surface of his potential.

“When you look at a player of his caliber being the first overall draft pick and his talent, it is really about trying to get to that All-Pro status and that consistency week in and week out,” Wilks said. “I think that he has the traits and the ability to be a dominant player at this level, but we are looking for that consistency week in and week out.”

Safety Jabrill Peppers, who at times was like a fish out of water in former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ system – especially as a rookie where he played 25-30 yards off the line of scrimmage as the “angel” or safety valve to prevent big plays, figures to play a much more prominent role under Wilks.

Peppers flashed his playmaking ability late in the season with an interception and game-sealing sack in a 17-16 win at Denver on Dec. 15.

“I think he is a guy that is going to be able to fit well within our system,” Wilks said. “I think you have to have guys that have linebacker traits but also DB skills because the game is so fast and they try to spread you out. You need those guys that are athletic in space, and I think he is going to bring that element.”

It's expected that the Browns will try to extend safety Damarious Randall’s contract this offseason and Wilks views Peppers and Randall as a potentially lethal dynamic duo.

“When you add Peppers along with Randall, I really love that combination and the range we have in the back end making plays on the ball,” Wilks said.

Wilks was asked about the strength of the Browns linebacker corps which features 2017 Pro Bowler Joe Schobert and 2015 Pro Bowler Jamie Collins, who led the team with 104 tackles and 13 tackles for loss in 2018 but did not play consistently. Christian Kirksey is coming off a hamstring injury that landed him on IR for the rest of the season while Genard Avery had a strong rookie season that included 4 ½ sacks, 14 QB hits and 5 tackles for loss.

But Wilks was asked if the group needed changes.

“I’m not going to emphasize major changes,” Wilks said. “We are still emphasizing right now the roster and trying to evaluate each and every individual here. Do we need to improve in every area? I think so, even up front, as we just mentioned with Myles and on the back end with Ward. I think Dorsey, Freddie and myself, we are all going to do a good job in making sure we get the right players in here.”