Cleveland Browns signing Justin Zimmer means more for Sheldon Richardson
The Cleveland Browns signed defensive tackle Justin Zimmer after releasing Chris Smith, but the move signals more about Sheldon Richardson.
The Cleveland Browns are dealing with a major depth issue on their defensive line, and they further enhanced the issue when they released Chris Smith. Their lack of depth specifically at defensive end has caused Sheldon Richardson to move between tackle and end the past two weeks.
Although the release of Smith made sense because of his poor on-field performance this season, it left a major hole at defensive end. The Browns are rolling out two players who were signed as a free agent or off the practice squad in the past three weeks as their reserves.
However, one of them may be forced into a starting role because Olivier Vernon is still clearly hampered by a knee injury that has kept him out for three games and allowed him to only play 19 percent of the defensive snaps against Pittsburgh.
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Despite only having four active defensive ends, and potentially three if Vernon is forced to miss more games, the Browns decided to sign defensive tackle Justin Zimmer off the Atlanta Falcons practice squad to fill the roster spot after Smith’s release.
The Zimmer signing gives the Browns five active defensive tackles. However, Zimmer may be utilized as the fourth defensive tackle because Richardson will likely spend most of his time on the field playing defensive end now.
In the past two games, Richardson has moved from tackle and end throughout the course of the game. But when the Browns were without Vernon two weeks ago against the Dolphins, Richardson played most of his snaps at defensive end.
Richardson has played well in the two games he’s played at defensive end. He has made 10 total tackles, one tackle for loss, two sacks, one forced fumble, three quarterback hits, and one pass defensed. Against the Steelers, Richardson played 90 percent of the defensive snaps.
His versatility has helped the Browns defensive line fill some of the void left by Myles Garrett and Vernon. He has put up more production in the past two games than he has most of this season, even though he has performed at a good level for the Browns defense all season.
If Vernon is forced to miss more games, or even miss snaps, because of his knee injury, Richardson will likely see increased time playing at defensive end. But as evidenced over the past few games, it is a spot Richardson appears to be comfortable in.