The Depths of Myles Garrett

He's a generational talent at defensive end, a Pro Bowler at 23 and a foundational pillar for the up-and-coming Browns. And that's just a start.
photo of Dan PompeiDan PompeiNFL ColumnistMay 2, 2019

Myles Garrett put his hand on the ground for his first rep in team drills in his first NFL training camp in the summer of 2017. The Browns' No. 1 overall pick had been limited earlier in camp because of a high ankle sprain, so all eyes were on him. Garrett got to the quarterback, but it was the way he did it that left an impression on teammates. "He ran an offensive lineman over with one arm..." Browns defensive tackle Trevon Coley remembers, still amazed a year-and-a-half later. "When he hit the dude, the first thing that hit the ground was the dude's head. We were all standing there saying, 'Oh my God.'"         

You shook my core
Stirred by your trance
Left me want wanting more
After only a glance

Garrett knifed to the left of then-Jets guard James Carpenter in his first snap of his first regular-season game in October of 2017, and before Carpenter could turn his head around, he was past him and smothering quarterback Josh McCown.

Your smile made waves
In the oceans of my mind
Your eyes made slaves
Of this man you came to find

Garrett took a snap in September of 2018 with the Browns 32 seconds away from their first victory in nearly 21 months, a shark striking at the scent of blood. Rookie QB Sam Darnold was on the other side of scrimmage, desperately trying to bring the Jets back from a four-point deficit. Garrett tried sprinting to his left and, rushing upfield, freed himself from offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum, bringing down Darnold down by his heels.

Your beauty bounds above the rest
Leaving others in awe
You are simply the best
Anyone ever saw

Garrett came in from left end in December of 2018, powering Texans right tackle Kendall Lamm backward and then colliding with left tackle Julie'n Davenport a few feet behind quarterback Deshaun Watson. For a moment, it seemed, Garrett was lost in a mass of giants. And then an arm emerged from the chaos—Garrett's—dragging down Watson for a sack, with an assist from linebacker Joe Schobert.

You capture fools to kings
Your love knows no peer
Put on this earth for many things
But love is why you're here

At 6'4", 272 pounds, Garrett has Instagram abs. He can jump higher than an NBA player (41" vertical) and burst quicker than a jackrabbit (1.63-second 10-yard split). When the Browns made him the first pick of the 2017 draft, there was nary an argument. A generational talent is what scouts have called him.

And there's more.

As interesting as he is imposing, he dreams of stepping in the ring with WBC heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder—and of writing a book filled with his poems like the one above.

Quarterback-imperiling, guitar-strumming, game-plan ruining, rom-com watching, halfback destroying, nature-walk taking, offensive-lineman steamrolling, Anita Baker playing—he is part warrior and part bard.

But somehow, the hard edges blend into the softness as if there were no dichotomy in Myles Garrett.

         

The Warrior

It was downtime in the NFL, and Myles Garrett was hanging with friends from college. They were playing something called "The Pain Game," in which cards are drawn to see how many pushups and situps each has to do.

As a result of one particularly unfortunate draw, Garrett had to do more than 100 consecutive pushups. By the time he was declared the "winner" of the game, he had done 564 pushups and 314 situps.

Two days later, he was still sore. Garrett is OK with pain, whether inflicting it or enduring it. He used to enjoy taping on boxing gloves, climbing between the ropes of a ring and sparring. Then it became difficult to find a willing opponent.

"Boxing is kind of like football in that you test each other's desire to be there," he says.

Someday, desires will be tested. For now, he hits the heavy bag, the speed bag and jumps rope.

He likes to train in different ways. The other day, it was soccer on the beach. Basketball was his first love and remains a passion. He could dunk when he was 12 years old, and he always has looked up to his older half-brother, Sean Williams, a former NBA player.

He recently caught an alley-oop pass and dunked with such ferocity that he shattered the backboard. The points he scored on the play won the game.

After posting a picture of himself beneath the mangled backboard, Garrett heard from new Browns coach Freddie Kitchens. The strong suggestion: Retire from basketball.

"All right," Garrett told him. "I hear you loud and clear. I'll focus on other training. There are other ways to do it."

It's all about being the best defensive end he can be. That explains why he works out twice a day—three hours first thing in the morning and three hours in the evening. And why he hasn't had a dessert in six years (since his last bite of his grandmother's chocolate cake). And why he doesn't drink soda. And why he's limiting pizza and pork to once a month.

When the Browns run sprints in practice, Coley says, Garrett runs so hard he nearly passes out.

The competitor in him can be traced his father, Lawrence, who refuses to lose. If they are playing a game of pool up to five and he is trailing, Lawrence will insist the game goes to 10. Then 15, and on and on.

His nerve comes from his mother, Audrey. When Garrett's brother, Sean, was accidentally kicked in the face by another boy after falling off a swing at school, Audrey went to school to check on him. When the other boy's father told her Sean needs to watch what he's doing, her reply was a right hook to the jaw.

"My mom gets aggressive," Garrett says. "She has no problem throwing down."

Her son is more even tempered but no less fierce. "He got that dog in him—that inner dog," Coley says. "Nobody gonna bully him. He doesn't take crap from anybody."

That explains why teammates voted Garrett a captain in his second season. He has the respect of every corner of the locker room.

He has the respect of opponents and fans too. They voted him to the Pro Bowl after he had 13.5 sacks last season.  Garrett became one of only 15 pass-rushers in NFL history with 13-plus sacks in a season at the age of 23 or younger.

He is capable of much, much more.

"He has an enormous amount of potential," says retired offensive tackle Joe Thomas, Garrett's teammate in 2017. Citing Garrett's quickness, lower-body flexibility and strength, he adds: "I've never played against anybody who was like him. Von Miller has the same bendiness, the ability to turn the corner. DeMarcus Ware reminds me of the way he turns the corner. But DeMarcus was 250 to 260 pounds. Von is small. Myles is 275 pounds. He's a big man."

Garrett believes many more sacks are possible as his team evolves. With the acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr., more points—and more pass-rushing opportunities—could be forthcoming. There are reinforcements up front with the acquisitions of Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson. And Garrett is counting on the change in the coaching staff to benefit him as well.

Ron Schwane/Associated Press

"I hopefully have more freedom to be the player I want to be," Garrett says. "[Former defensive coordinator and interim head coach] Gregg [Williams] was more like: 'You win with these two moves. I don't want to see anything else out of you.' It's kind of hard with two moves. I feel like you can't always be so predictable. You can be as strong or fast as you want, but speed chop and power move aren't always going to work. You have to mix up what you're doing. Sometimes you have to stutter step, sometimes you have to spin inside, you have to run some games. You have to have some freedom to throw different looks at them, and we didn't always have that."

Garrett and quarterback Baker Mayfield are the twin pillars the Browns will be built upon. And Garrett is pleased to share the responsibility with the second-year quarterback, in part because he admires the audacity with which he plays.

"We're quite different," Garrett says. "We're both confident in what we do. He carries his swag in a different way. I'm more to myself. I don't like to be as vocal. But you can take it to the bank I'm thinking I'm the best player on the field at any given time. He's just more likely to say it."

              

The Poet

When many of his contemporaries are Fortniting, Snapchatting or carousing under the moonlight, Garrett often is writing poetry.

He's not much into video games. Almost every weekly usage report from Apple tells him he's been on his phone less than he was the week before. Friends encourage him to make social media posts, but he would rather live in the moment.

Garrett says he never has touched weed—as a child, he felt it had a deleterious effect on his brother, Sean, and swore it off. He never had alcohol until he tried red wine a couple of months ago. "I took a sip and didn't like it," he says. "Not for me."

He recently went to a nightclub for only the second time in his life. He was with Coley and former teammate Emmanuel Ogbah. "It was funny to see my teammates and friends in that kind of environment," he says. "You see who's got some game. But I left early. It's not something I would do often."

Poetry, now that's something else. It pulses through his veins. He writes poems three or four times a week.

Garrett writes about feelings, not football. And there is not a lot of common ground. "When I'm doing sports, I don't feel anything at all," he says. "I enjoy the moment. It's a safe haven. But once you try to let someone inside your soul, you become vulnerable. You have to be comfortable in your own skin. I don't open myself up like that to a lot of people. It takes courage."

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

When he writes, he prefers to do it longhand. If the inspiration hits at a certain time, typing it out on his phone will do. But he says when he writes longhand, it "feels like it flows through me better."

A book of poetry is in his future. His only dilemma is if it should be "by Myles Garrett" or if he will use a pseudonym. He's also working on a dinosaur book for children (Garrett has been a dinosaur fanatic since Jurassic Park came out on video when he was a child, and he wants to be a paleontologist after he retires from football).

Garrett has been writing regularly since he was about eight years old. His father's mother, Juanita Garrett, or "Gran" to him, loved poetry and literally gave him the pen and paper. "We didn't have much else to do," he says. "So we'd sit down and write."

One day, he and Gran watched the documentary Ali Rap about Muhammad Ali. "I was mesmerized," Garrett says. "He was one of the greatest boxers of all time, if not the greatest, and a great poet. He could tell you a story with his words. That's really what poetry is."

Gran eventually was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and passed away during Garrett's freshman year at Texas A&M, but Garrett keeps her alive in his verses and his demeanor.

Charming and disarming, Garrett smiles a lot. "His personality is just like [Gran's] and my husband's," Audrey Garrett says. "He was her last grandchild and her favorite. That was her baby."

After Gran's death, Garrett thought about getting a tattoo in her honor. But he's not about tattoos. Or piercings. Or rap music—he finds much of the subject matter is repetitive and tiring.

Garrett prefers listening to classic rock—Journey, Queen, the Rolling Stones—or soul—Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Teddy Pendergrass. That's the kind of music Mom and Dad always played on car rides.

Audrey describes her son as "nerdy." Many of his teammates undoubtedly would agree. He cries at sad movies. He escapes with anime. He finds peace taking photographs on nature walks. He's learning to play guitar.

Garrett always has been sensitive. Once when he was five years old, Garrett was engrossed in a television show.

Mom: "Myles, I need you to clean the bathroom."

No response.

Mom: "Myles! Get up and do your chores!"

No response.

Mom: "Myles!"

Mom: "OK, go get the spoon."

Garrett brought her the spoon, and she swatted his hands.

Mom: "Do you know why I did that?"

Garrett, crying: "Yes, but you didn't have to hit me. I promise if you get my attention next time, I'll do what you want."

And Mom never had to use the wooden spoon on him again.

It was a little different scenario when he was in college and his father asked him to kill a large "North Texas wasp" that had gotten in the house, according to the Players' Tribune. Garrett refused.

"Dad," Myles reasoned, "Everything on this Earth has a purpose and deserves the right to live."

Garrett thinks differently than most. His family sometimes played "The I Love You Game," in which each participant took a turn telling the others how much he or she loved them. I love you...more than there are grains of sand on the beach, or I love you...more than there are stars in the sky.

When he was six, Garrett said, "I love you like a sideways eight."

Sideways eight? The symbol for infinity.

"Now, at times after he makes a sack, people think he's making a heart on the field to celebrate," Audrey says. "He's making a sideways eight to tell us he loves us to infinity."

The Warrior Poet

Near the end of the movie Braveheart, William Wallace speaks of what his countrymen did in the First War of Scottish Independence.

"In the Year of our Lord 1314, patriots of Scotland, starving and outnumbered, charged the fields of Bannockburn," he says. "They fought like warrior poets."

How does a warrior poet fight? As if the cause means everything. As if passion and nobility and determination and commitment are limitless.

If he wished, Garrett could be digging for fossils in South Dakota's Badlands. He could be writing sonnets in an artsy coffee shop. He could be shooting hoops, maybe in a massive arena in front of thousands.

But he's a football player. Why?

David Richard/Associated Press

"I love it," he says. "I love the hitting. I love making the big play. I love being out there with my teammates. I love the camaraderie. I can't say I always love practice. But it's a means to an end. I want to have those big performances, those games you talk about years down the line. I want to win those big playoff games. I want to win a Super Bowl. I want to hold up the trophy. I want to splash Champagne on my teammates. I want to take care of my family for generations. I want to have my head turned into a bust in the Hall of Fame.

"Those things can only happen if I'm doing the best I can each and every day, looking out for my teammates and keeping out of trouble."

Former Browns defensive line coach Clyde Simmons says Garrett "has a chance to be one of the greats, as long as he stays healthy and continues to work on his craft." In January, Simmons, who played defensive end in an era when nasty was a prerequisite for his position, also said he thinks there are "some little things in there that I think he could be a little bit more aggressive about, a little nastier about."

To which Garrett says: "I'm the kind of guy who is always respectful of the game. I want to beat you, but I don't want to do anything dirty. I want to do it the clean way. You don't want to do something that hurts the team."

During practices one fall at Texas A&M, 6'5", 325-pound offensive tackle Germain Ifedi grew frustrated after repeatedly being shown up by Garrett. On one play, Garrett long-armed the blocker, and his arm slid up to his throat. Ifedi, who now is with the Seahawks, threw a punch. Garrett avoided it. Then Ifedi charged Garrett.

Instead of fighting back, Garrett extended his arm, grabbed Ifedi's facemask and held him at bay. Ifedi kept swinging but couldn't connect.

That's Garrett—thoughtful and forceful at once.

Garrett realizes the mind is a powerful thing, even in a physical confrontation. Thomas helped him understand how to be a thinking man's defensive end by studying the offensive tackle Garrett would oppose each week during his rookie year. Thomas would  then give him three moves he thought could exploit his weaknesses.

"The nicest thing I can say about him is he's got the brain of an offensive lineman," Thomas says. "He's not like your typical dumb defensive lineman. He's cerebral and thoughtful, and that really helps with the way he attacks offensive linemen."

The forces within Garrett are not oppositional. They are complementary, yin and yang.

This is how he sees it: "I'm caring and loving and supportive of people who have been forces in my life and have guided me where I am today. But football is my job. If I lose my job, I can't be supportive of the people who have been there for me. The person in front of me is trying to take my job. I have to whup him, or he beats me and takes my job. I'm not going to let that happen. I'm not out there to injure anybody, but I'm out there to hurt your will and make sure you don't want to do it anymore, take away your will to keep on fighting."

Of course, like any good poet, he has a vision.

He can become one of the legends of the game, like Lawrence Taylor. "I want to have the same impact on the game as LT," he says. "That's big talk because he's one of the best ever. But it's doable.

"I want to go down as the greatest player to ever play."

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