BEREA, Ohio — Browns defensive end Myles Garrett doesn’t mind being called dominant or destructive.
Don’t dare label him as dirty.
“I know who I am and the guys within these walls know who I am, and that’s not me,” Garrett said. “I’m not going to do anything to try and hurt this team or take out any player outside the rule book. I’m just going to keep playing this game the way it’s supposed to be played, and that’s violently but passionately.”
And that’s the challenge for the super-talented Garrett.
He’s been a one-man wrecking ball through two games, getting a league-leading five sacks while overpowering tackles, guards, ends and anyone who attempts to block him.
But Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, has also been called for five penalties, including two roughing-the-passer infractions in Monday night’s 23-3 win over the New York Jets.
Right now, the line between aggressiveness and illegality is blurred for Garrett.
On the second of those personal fouls against the Jets, he was late hitting Trevor Siemian, who got his leg pinned up under him as Cleveland’s star drove him to the turf. Simian suffered a grotesque season-ending ankle injury.
TV replays were difficult to stomach, and Garrett sympathized with his unintended knockout blow to Siemian, who was filling in while starter Sam Darnold recovers from mononucleosis.
“You don’t want to put anybody out for the season,” Garrett said. “It’s their job and it’s something that you don’t do unless you love it, and you don’t want to take that away from anybody. I hope he comes back faster and stronger than he ever has. I wish the best for him.”
That’s Garrett in his third season. The 6-foot-4, 272-pounder was even more dedicated in the weight room this past offseason as he reconditioned a body that makes Michelangelo’s David appear out of shape.
Garrett has stated numerous times that one of his goals is to be the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, a crown that has gone to Los Angeles Rams star tackle Aaron Donald the past two seasons.
Garrett knows he’s not helping his cause with the penalties that not only dilute his performances, but are costing his team. Browns coach Freddie Kitchens referred to the misdeeds as “a form of selfishness.”
“You want to play aggressive, you want to play passionate and you just want to finish the play,” Garrett said. “I’m gonna keep on playing with the same aggression. I just gotta be smarter, better in the strike zone and try and pull off so I don’t land on them (quarterbacks) with all my weight. That was the main point of emphasis when the refs talked to me and I just gotta be better at that.
“But I’m not gonna pull off on them on a one step and hit the quarterback like that. But if I know I have two steps or more, I’m going to pull off. I’m not trying to do anything dirty. I’m not trying to injure anybody.”
The NFL has made quarterbacks’ safety at priority, and Garrett understands that if he doesn’t clean up his act officials will be even more focused on him.
“I hope so. I could get some holding calls too,” he said with a smile before getting serious. “I’m pretty sure it could, but I’m just going to try to finish violently but also within the rules, make sure I get the guy down and try to strip the ball from him, nothing late or anything illegal.”
Kitchens said Garrett just needs to play smarter, and not take unnecessary chances.
“It is a little bit of decision making, and it is a little bit of cleaning up the strike zone,” Kitchens said. “Some of it is just making the conscious decision of is this right or wrong and err on the side of the lighter.”
With a national TV audience watching Sunday night, Garrett will get a chance to show how he matches up with Donald, who has yet to get a sack in 2019.
Garrett is eager to see where he rates against the NFL’s pre-eminent pass rusher.
“His get-off is like an end,” he said. “He has great skills and moves being down there as a D-tackle and once you combine those two things, you get a deadly combination like that. “I’m going to be watching and seeing part of the show in person and try to give him something to look at as well.”