CE: What made you want to be a sports reporter?
DL: Like most of us who get into this business, it started with just being a sports fan. It started with basketball and the NBA but grew from there. I was also a fan of sports media — the Sunday newspaper was a must-read, especially Terry Pluto’s column — and I was a regular sports radio listener and could probably name all the ESPN sports anchors I watched in college. My path was non-traditional because I didn’t take school seriously enough early on, but once I buckled down and focused on getting my degree, I was lucky enough that things aligned for me after I graduated and the right person responded to the right email at the right time to get me in the door at cleveland.com.
CE: Are you more excited about the changes the Browns made on defense or offense?
DL: It has to be defense, just because they addressed such glaring needs. Dalvin Tomlinson is a legitimate defensive tackle in the middle and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is an interesting gamble on a player with a short track record of success. Juan Thornhill should fit well in Jim Schwartz’s scheme and will hopefully work out better than John Johnson III. I’ll temper my expectations a little because these signings are a case of Andrew Berry chasing his tail to make up for past free agency mistakes, but admitting mistakes and fixing them is part of a GM’s job and he’s done that.
CE: Biggest threat in the AFC North next year?
DL: I still think Cincinnati is the best team in the division. They have the best offensive weapons in the division and continue to shore up their offensive line and, while they’ve lost some players on defense, they should be able to figure it out with Lou Anarumo coordinating the defense. They started slow last season but then lost twice after Week 6 — that weird Halloween game against the Browns and the AFC Championship Game. They’re rock solid and they are rightly the favorite in the division right now.
CE: Expectations for Deshaun Watson next season?
DL: I’ve always believed Watson is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league but I’m not going to go crazy yet with what I expect. I’m very much in “I need to see it” mode with all areas of this team and Watson didn’t look anything close to the quarterback he was in Houston in the season’s final six games. It’s easy enough to excuse those due to the long layoff, but I still need to see him look like the player he was before nearly two full seasons away from the game before I’m ready to consider putting him in the same class as the other quarterbacks in the top of the AFC. He can get there.
CE: Any advice for someone that wants to be a sports reporter?
DL: Take every opportunity presented to you, even if it seems like it doesn’t fit your ultimate goal or you can’t figure out how it’s going to get you where you want to go. It will force you to learn skills that can pay off later. I learned everything from audio and video to production to HTML in my early years in the business. I’ve done play-by-play for high school softball and produced high school soccer and basketball broadcasts. I covered the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards. I learned how to be on air, how to be on camera, how to interview people. (The secret here is the process of interviewing Myles Garrett and interviewing a high school softball coach are the same in a lot of ways — it’s just about which interview would you prefer to make your rookie mistakes doing.) Try to avoid saying no to things. Everything’s an opportunity, a chance to make mistakes and a chance to learn.