Cleveland Browns Preseason Keys to Success: Defense
As many questions as there are about the Browns’ offense, far more questions arise when I look at their defense. Converting from a 3-4 to a 4-3 is a very big deal, and the first year of a scheme change has the potential to get ugly. We should know, we’ve been watching the Browns try to build a 3-4 defense for years.
It’s easy enough to look at a rebuilding defense in a brand-new scheme and see areas of concern. The real task for Dick Jauron and the rest of the Browns’ coaching staff is to advance the team’s defensive capabilities and to be able to field a respectable defense come Game One. Here’s what I see when I look at our current defense:
I am sick of screaming “GET HIM!” at our pass rushers – Last season, the Browns mustered 29 total sacks, good for 25th in the league. GM Tom Heckert obviously saw this as a bad thing, and brought in DT Phil Taylor and DE Jabaal Sheard to add youth and bodies to the defensive line. However, they are rookies, and while they will both surely benefit from the presence of Ahtyba Rubin as well as each other’s presence, it is hard for me to see either of them making a huge impact this season. I think both will be solid, but don’t expect a repeat of Kamerion Wimbley’s rookie year.
If the Browns are going to generate any sort of pressure on the quarterback, it must start with Rubin. He took a huge step forward last season, registering 82 tackles, two sacks, and an interception. I can see Rubin and Taylor, two traditional nose tackles, combining to make the next Williams Wall. Rubin must maintain the pace that he set last season.
The coaching staff has told DE Marcus Benard that they’d like him to shed weight. Benard initially put on the weight to look more appealing as a 4-3 defensive end, but with 11 sacks registered in only limited playing time over his first two seasons, he is probably better off sticking with his original playing weight. With the three aforementioned players projected to start, Benard has a chance to gain starter’s minutes at right end, where he could thrive out of the spotlight.
The secondary can’t cover forever – CB Joe Haden has been having a rather quiet camp so far, but it takes a closer observation to see why. He has been held out of practice at various points to soothe small injuries, but when he’s been on the field, he has been blanketing his assignments and is rarely thrown at. S TJ Ward is also looking to continue his development after leading all rookies with 105 tackles. The unit has depth with Sheldon Brown along with new signees Dimitri Patterson and Usama Young, as well as rookie Buster Skrine, who apparently has looked like one of the most physically gifted (and most raw) players in camp.
However, if the pass rush is weak, completions and touchdowns are going to happen. There is nothing more painful than watching the opposing quarterback tip-toe around the pocket for 5-6 seconds before finding someone wide open for a 15-yard gain. If a play lasts that long, space on the field is an inevitability. I’m not saying the pass rush has to be getting there in three seconds every down, but it would be nice to at least force the quarterback to make a quick read every once in a while.
Staying hungry is the name of the game – In training camps across the country, team defenses are eating the offenses alive. The loss of OTAs prevented a lot of units from developing chemistry early in the offseason, and as a result the defenses are a lot more prepared than the offenses right now. While it’s great to build confidence at this point in the preseason, there is also a risk of younger players seeing results this early and becoming complacent. Jauron must drill home the fact that every game, every day, every practice, and every drill must be approached as if the player’s career is on the line. When the first game finally arrives, I do not want to have to watch AJ Green go untouched into the endzone while four defensive backs give puzzled looks to each other. There is no such thing as being too prepared.