Greg Newsome II, left, and Nate McCrary run drills during Browns training camp July 29 in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. (Chris Carlson – The Associated Press)
By TOM WITHERS
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Greg Newsome II is zeroed in this summer — literally.
The Browns’ third-year cornerback has switched jersey numbers, shedding No. 20 for No. 0, which is how many interceptions the former first-round pick has recorded in two seasons for Cleveland.
“I kind of wanted a fresh start,” he said July 25.
While a solid and productive player, Newsome hasn’t matched the expectations placed on him since the Browns drafted the former Northwestern standout with the 26th overall pick in 2021. Newsome is determined to change that.
First step: the jersey swap.
“I’m going into Year 3,” said Newsome, the first Cleveland player to wear No. 0. “I’ve been in the league for two years now, and I think I’m ready to really make that next jump. So that’s kind of what I mean by fresh start, just ready to make that next jump.”
It’s been a bumpy offseason for the 23-year-old.
In April, Newsome caused a stir with a Twitter post that seemed to indicate he wasn’t thrilled about playing in the slot and the possibility of playing there even more in new coordinator Jim Schwartz’s system. He changed agents, triggering speculation Newsome wanted to be traded.
Newsome was forced to explain he was happy in his role and in Cleveland.
The night before the start of mandatory minicamp in May, his truck was stolen when masked gunmen held up former teammate Perrion Winfrey as Newsome waited inside a downtown Cleveland bar.
Initially, Newsome was thought to have been the victim of a robbery but he later clarified his whereabouts.
Then, Newsome’s alma mater was rocked by a hazing scandal, which led to his former coach, Pat Fitzgerald, being fired. Newsome initially criticized the school in a social media post before taking it down.
“I’m an alum, so that’s always going to be my school,” Newsome said following Day 4 of Cleveland’s week in the Allegheny Mountains. “You’ve got to respect everyone, so I didn’t want to say anything that would come off as disrespectful to anyone, so I decided to delete it.”
There’s a part of Newsome that would like to erase his first two seasons.
Supremely confident, he knows he can do more and joked that maybe the zero on his chest will look more like a bull’s-eye target to opposing quarterbacks.
“I hope so,” he said with a laugh. “I get a little bit more production, so I hope that’s what it causes.”
It’s not that Newsome has played poorly, but the fact that he has yet to record his first interception after 27 games is troubling.
Coach Kevin Stefanski gave a diplomatic answer when asked if the zero on Newsome’s career stat line was his fault.
“You have to be so careful with interceptions, similar to sacks,” he said. “With sacks, it’s a stat that everybody uses for the defensive line and for defenses, for that matter. But really we’re looking at quarterback pressures.
“Similarly with the secondary, you need the ball to get thrown your way in order to have an interception, and then so how many balls are coming your way? What are you doing when the ball does come your way? Are you defending the player? Are you knocking the ball away? Those type of things obviously goes without saying. We love interceptions. Our DBs love interceptions, and that’s something that’s a goal for all of our guys. But I think it can be a little bit misleading.”
Newsome made it clear that he enjoys playing for the fiery Schwartz, who won a Super Bowl as Philadelphia’s coordinator and is trying to instill an aggressive mindset in Cleveland’s defenders.
“Me and him had countless conversations and it’s just going to be a lot of man-to-man (coverage) and versatility,” Newsome said. “So I’m going to be able to showcase myself inside, outside, wherever he needs me to play for his defense to be successful, I’m ready to do it.”