BEREA, Ohio — Last season, cornerback A.J. Green began making a name for himself while embodying the "Next Man Up" mentality. His production has since carried over to this year, having a standout performance early in training camp. It's production his team isn't surprised by, but that he dedicated himself to specifically last year.
“My experience last season was just going out there and, the DB room, we have a thing to hold us up to standards whether it is Ward out there or me, we all know we have to play our best and I feel like I just had to rise to the occasion,” Green said.
Rise to the occasion is just what he did. In the 12 games he played, with one start, Green notched 21 tackles—15 solo—with two fumble recoveries and an interception. Green's ability to stay ready and show up whenever his number is called is something his teammates don't take for granted. In fact, it's something they very much understand is a luxury to have in their depth chart.
“Man, he's amazing. I said it last year and I'll say it again, I feel like if he wasn't on this team, he can go and be a starter anywhere else in the league. He's that good. He's that talented," said cornerback Greg Newsome II."He's been having a great camp. Whenever we need him to be on that field, he's always there, ready to go and we don't miss a beat with him on the field.”
Safety John Johnson III shared similar sentiments about Green. Johnson, one of the more vocal defensive leaders on the Browns, can be seen on any given practice session celebrating big plays with his teammates. With Green involved in numerous standout moments already in camp, Johnson has been in those celebrations more often than not.
“I feel like he could be a starter on a lot of teams in this league. It just so happens that he’s kind of like the third guy sometimes. He stepped in games and played really, really well," Johnson said. "I just like being out there competing with him. He’s one of those guys, too, that we talk a lot. We communicate, make sure that we communicate, overly communicate. I love his game. I love his ability. I love his level of competition, so he’s a good teammate."
Green went undrafted in the 2020 NFL Draft, blaming his 40 time for dropping off some teams' boards. Still, he hasn't let that fact stop him from proving himself. It actually may have caused him to fight harder.
"At the end of the day I know what I’m capable of. I believe in myself. If 10 people turn their back on me, I’m going to still have myself. At the end of the day, I knew I could come in, I knew I was way faster than that, I knew I could cover. I felt like I put the stuff on film, put the stuff on tape, it was getting back to the football field. The whole track meet thing was over like. It was getting back on the football field," Green said.
Leaving that in the past but keeping the chip on his shoulder, Green has channeled his energy into being the best player he can be on the field—something his coaches appreciate.
"I think the thing that really sticks out to me with A.J. is really his ability to go in and learn and the situation's never too big for him. There's been a couple times when we've had DBs down and he jumps into the game and does it at a high level, plays against top-level guys," said defensive backs coach Jeff Howard. "I think he's very diligent, very coachable, you tell somebody else something, he's going to learn it, you can coach him, you really only have to tell him something once and he's going to be able to go out and get it done and he's been able to compete at a high level."
At the top of the coaching staff, head coach Kevin Stefanski is just as excited as Green and his teammates to see the cornerback thriving early in camp—and eager to see him continue to grow and take the leap that seems right on the cusp of happening this year.
"He's a good football player, and I think he's showed that when he got opportunities last season in games. He's shown up on special teams throughout his career. He's another guy in the natural progression of being a third-year player and seeing if he can take that next step," Stefanski said.
While Green continues impressing, he's taking reps both on the outside and in the slot, exemplifying his versatility and, hopefully, increasing his availability for the Browns this season.
"Day after day, year after year I have to come in here, I have to prove myself. Especially being undrafted, you always feel you have to prove yourself every day," Green said. "I just work, put my best foot forward, good competition in this building everywhere. I want to step up to the plate and I want to show that I can play with the best."
#Browns CB A.J. Green, to no surprise, is having a strong camp. Had an interception the other day, and today he was all over the place in coverage. Started making a name for himself last season and it looks like that's going to continue. pic.twitter.com/QEs1YEzvXN— Camryn Justice (@camijustice) August 3, 2022
Camryn Justice is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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