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Cleveland Browns 2005: Defense Preview
Ricky E. Morris. 2nd September, 2005 - 1:44 pm

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Defensive Line

In 2000 the Cleveland Browns selected Courtney Brown with the first overall pick in the draft. This man was a monster and highly coveted by all teams. Experts, scouts, and the fans thought he was going to be a successful NFL star. Instead, he became a successful bust on injured reserve every year. In 2001, the Browns took Gerrard Warren with the 3rd overall pick. Just like Brown, Warren didn?t meet up to expectations. They both moved to the Denver Broncos this off-season, along with Mike Myers and Ebenezer Ekuban.

In the past two seasons the Browns defensive line has gotten hammered by the opposing teams running backs. Jamal Lewis broke the single game rushing record against the Browns in 2003. Last year the Browns ranked dead last in rushing yards allowed per game (144.6) and 21st the previous season. (131.6) This year the Cleveland Browns have switched to the 3-4 defense. The slated starters are Orpheus Roye and Alvin McKinley at the ends, and Jason Fisk in the middle.

Left End

It can be argued that Orpheus Roye has been the Cleveland Browns most consistent defensive linemen since the return. Last season, Roye recorded lows in sacks and tackles that he had since 2001. Orpheus Roye does have experience in the 3-4 defense but hasn?t played in it since his days as a Pittsburgh Steeler. Roye has more experience in the 3-4 defense than any of the Browns current defensive linemen. He has also had more success in the 3-4 defense. In 1999, Roye recorded career highs in sacks, tackles, and interceptions. (All of those highs are still in tact five years later.) Roye is the strength of this defensive line. Without him, the Browns will be run all over this year.

Nose Tackle

Jason Fisk was a backup last year as a San Diego Charger. Fortunately, Fisk has experience playing the 3-4. The Chargers moved to the 3-4 last year. This gives Fisk an advantage over most of the Browns linemen. Fisk only started in one game in 2004 and appeared in 15 total games. So far, he has been beaten up by the opposing teams centers, and during training camp was manhandled by Jeff Faine. Fisk has improved game by game during the preseason. However, it does appear that he is the weakest link on the defensive line at this moment. Durability has never been an issue for Jason; he has missed two games due to injury in his 11 year career in the NFL. The issue is that he is turning 33 years old this season.

Right End

Alvin McKinley only started in two games last season but had his best season in the NFL. McKinley recorded 3 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, a pass deflection, 20 QB pressures, and 60 tackles last year. McKinley is young and has the most potential on this defensive line. Unfortunately, he has never played in the 3-4 defense.

Weak Depth
The Browns depth on the line is lacking tremendously after the trade to Denver. Corey Jackson, NFLE Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 and 5th round draft pick Amon Gordon have the most in game experience. Together they have appeared in a total of seven games and have recorded 7 tackles. The rest of the Browns depth on the defensive line are inexperienced rookies or linemen that have only appeared in one or two games.

The defensive line has got to be the biggest question mark that the Cleveland Browns have. If any of the three starters get injured in the course of the season, there might be some trading going around.

Linebacker

LOLB

Matt Stewart played for that great Falcons defense last year. Stewart started 17 of the Falcons 18 total games last year. (includes playoffs) He recorded a total of 71 tackles and one and a half sacks. Stewart joined the Browns in free agency this offseason. He came from a Falcons defense that ranked 9th in rush defense. Stewart right now is listed as the Browns starting LOLB in the new 3-4 scheme. He is competing with veteran and former defensive lineman Kenard Lang.

Kenard Lang matches that New England Patriots player mold, he will play any position to stay in Cleveland. After having his best statistical season as a Cleveland Brown, Lang switched over from defensive end to linebacker this offseason. It has been a new learning process not only defensive scheme wise, but position wise as well. Lang recorded seven sacks, 62 tackles, and two forced fumbles last season and was definitely on the radar for a pro bowl appearance. Now he starts from scratch. This preseason, Lang has looked faster than ever. Unfortunately, being new to the linebacker position sets him back when it comes to his coverage skills. It will take him time to learn both the 3-4 and linebacker. Lang is a competitor, I expect him to compete for a starting job before the Browns bye week comes.

LILB

Andra Davis is one of the young bright middle line backers in the NFL. This year he has to switch over to the 3-4 defense. Davis only played in 11 games last season, but recorded 71 tackles, 0.5 sacks, and had a career high in interceptions with three. Davis had a breakout year his second year in the NFL, recording 170 tackles and 5 sacks. Davis is one of the Browns best linebackers since the return to the NFL. He is definitely, one of the best draft picks by the Browns. He has struggled in the 3-4 this preseason. Truly, it will be hard to grade his preseason performance not knowing how the defense truly looks. Davis signed a one year tender, and is auditioning not only for an opportunity in free agency, but also one of the Browns free agent tags.

Mason Unck has been great on special teams since he has arrived in Cleveland. He played in NFL Europe in 2004, and had an impressive year there. Coming to the Browns he made a roster spot on special teams after the Browns were hit with injuries to the linebackers. He made the most of his opportunity and played in 11 games last season. Unck recorded 17 tackles, most of the tackles were made on special teams. Unck wont be seeing any starting time any time soon, but it does appear that he will make the team with the release of veteran Brant Boyer.

RILB

Ben Taylor, like many other Browns players, ended his year on injured reserve. Taylor only played in three games last year. After having a career year recording 95 tackles, and winning his starting job back Taylor tore his pectoral muscle after trying to make a tackle on Tiki Barber. He now has another chance in the Browns new 3-4 defense. He is competing with Orlando Ruff whom has moved up the ranks since arriving in Cleveland. I expect Ruff to win the job, or share time with Taylor when the regular season starts.

Orlando Ruff is a perfect name for those in the Dawg Pound. He has been the most impressive linebacker on the Browns team all preseason long. Ruff went from being on the bottom of the depth chart, to challenging Ben Taylor for the starting inside linebacker. Ruff, just like many other players on the Browns defense is learning the 3-4. Ruff has excelled in it during the preseason. He has shown some excellent run stopping skills, and has gotten to the quarterback. If he continues his dominance, Taylor will find himself on the bench.

ROLB

Chaun Thompson was drafted in the second round in the 2003 draft. Coming from a small school, West Texas A&M, many thought that Chaun was drafted too early. After breaking his wrist during training camp last season, Thompson was forced to wear a cast for the entire season. In his first full NFL season last year, Thompson recorded 65 tackles and 2.5 sacks. During training camp, Romeo Crennel was impressed with Chaun. ``Being able to come off the edge and get a running start off the edge, I think that if he continues to progress, he'll be able to help us. That's what you kind of look for - a guy who has that speed, that size, that quickness coming off the edge''. Thompson is known for his impressive pass rushing skills. If anyone can get Thompson to play up to second round potential, it would be Romeo Crennel.

Nick Speegle was drafted in the 6th round of this years NFL draft. He meets the old New England Patriots descriptions perfectly. Speegle is smart, tough, is explosive, and was a leader for New Mexico. He started off in training camp very slow, and didn?t look very good in the first preseason games. Since the first game, he has been impressive. It is unknown if a 6th round draft pick can do well, but he does fit that Patriots player mold.

Cornerback

Gary Baxter started all 16 games as the Ravens right corner back last season. He recorded a career high in total tackles (86), sacks (2), and forced fumbles (2). The Browns replaced Anthony Henry with Gary Baxter this offseason. They are both different types of players. What we are going to get with Gary Baxter, is a tough football player. One that is excellent against the run, and one of the better tackling corners in the league. Baxter wont get as many interceptions as Henry did. However, he will make a tackle on the running back, if he breaks loose.

Daylon McCutcheon has been through the Browns best and worse times. He has been a Brown since 1999. He and Phil Dawson are the only two Browns remaining from the expansion team. He has been a very consistent right corner back. He may be small, but he plays with plenty of heart and gets the job done. Last year he had his best year since 2001. He recorded 50 tackles and had two interceptions. Daylon is a very consistent football player. This offseason, Daylon has suffered with some headaches, which has nearly forced him to miss all of training camp. In fact, Daylon only worked out in full pads twice this offseason. He has recovered and baring any set backs will be ready for the season opener against the Bengals.

Ray Mickens was released by the Jets after they signed Ty Law. Mickens missed all of last year with an ACL tear during training camp. He is regarded as one of the leagues top nickel backs. He was signed as insurance, just in case McCutcheon?s injury is worse than expected. In 2003, the last time Mickens played, he was started for the Jets and recorded career highs in assists with 10, and pass deflections with 18. Mickens, will likely see time as the Browns nickel back this season. Depending on the severity of the injury to McCutcheon, Mickens may actually start in some games this season.

Leigh Bodden has been a big surprise this preseason. Last season, Bodden started in one game against the New York Giants. Bodden shut down Ike Hilliard, only allowing Hilliard to catch three passes for 26 yards. In eight games last season, Bodden recorded a career high in tackles last year with 26. He tore a chest muscle and ended the remaining eight games on injured reserve. This preseason, Bodden has played exceptional. Breaking up passes, defending his man well, and making tackles. If there is anyone that has surprised me in the Browns secondary so far, it has been Bodden.

Antonio Perkins was drafted in the 4th round (103 overall) in this past years NFL draft. Perkins runs a 4.31, probably will be the fastest player on the Browns squad after the final cuts are made. Perkins, a star returning punts for Oklahoma has seen more time at cornerback this training camp and preseason. It comes to a shock to many, since he was such an explosive return man. With the Sooners, Perkins returned 113 punt returns with 1,441 yards averaging 12.8 yards. In addition, Perkins had eight touchdowns on those 113 punt returns. He has shown to have some decent coverage skills this preseason. Its possible that Perkins may play the nickel if an injury does occur during the season. For now, he will be backup to Dennis Northcutt as the pain punt returner, and 5th or 6th on the depth chart at cornerback.

For the final cornerback roster spot, it will likely be a battle between Antwan Harris and Michael Jameson. Antwan Harris was drafted by the New England Patriots in the 6th round of the 2000 NFL draft. He has more of an advantage over Jameson since he has been in the 3-4 defense almost his entire career. He comes in with 3 super bowl rings, and history with Coach Crennel. Harris returned his first touchdown of his career last season against the Pittburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game, when Troy Brown intercepted a Ben Rothlisburger pass and gave Harris the lateral. Jameson has been a Cleveland Brown since 2001. He has been in the 4-3 ever since, which is really a disadvantage to him. He has looked very good this preseason, recovering two turnovers against the Detriot Lions. One interception and one fumble recovery that was returned for a touchdown. He has one more game left to prove he is worthy of a roster spot. He has an advantage, since Harris will be sidelined against the Bears. Jameson has been playing safety this preseason, but if he makes the team it will most likely be as a cornerback since both Pool and Crocker are on the bench.

Safety

Strong Safety

Sean Jones in college was known as a hard hitting safety. Last season, Jones tore his ACL in training camp and missed his entire rookie year. This season is basically Jones rookie year. Jones has looked impressive this preseason in limited time. He has made plays when given the opportunity during the preseason. Jones sacked Giants QB Eli Manning during the first preseason game. Nearly came up with an interception on a bad pass made by Panthers QB Jake Delhomme. Jones has looked like the real deal this preseason, and hopefully continues the progress he is making into the regular season. If Jones and Pool can live up to expectations, the Browns could have the best young safety combo in the NFL.

Free Safety

Brian Russell was picked up in free agency this offseason. Russell has only been playing in the NFL for three years, but has already recorded 11 interceptions. In 2003, Russell recorded his career high in almost every category including interceptions with nine. Russell did intercept a pass thrown by Jeff Garcia during a preseason game with the Lions. He has shown to have good cover skills, but lacks speed. During the year, Russell may be challenged by one of the two safteys on the bench.

Two Backups with Starting Potential
Brodney Pool and Chris Crocker will be the two guys backing up Jones and Russell.

Brodney Pool was the Browns 2nd round draft pick (34th overall) in this years NFL draft. He was regarded as the best safety in this years NFL draft, and could have gone in the first round. Pool proved in training camp that he can be one of the hard hitting saftey?s in the league. He has an excellent training camp, but unfortunately has been sidelined the rest of the preseason with a concussion on the first play from scrimmage during the first preseason game. Pool has a chance to be the starting FS before the end of the season.

Chris Crocker found himself starting last season, after Butch Davis demoted Earl Little. Crocker took full advantage and recorded a career high in all categories. Including his first interception and first two sacks in his professional career. Crocker looked very good, until he had a season ending injury. Crocker missed the final four games. Crocker has excellent coverage skills and could see himself in situational action on 3rd and longs.

Defensive Analysis

Many of the players that are playing in the new 3-4 of the Cleveland Browns are auditioning this season for their jobs next year. To be a little more descriptive, anyone that isn?t playing secondary for the Cleveland Browns defense this season is auditioning for their jobs next year. This includes all the linebackers and defensive linemen for those that haven?t figured it out yet. It is impossible to tell how the defense is going to look as the season approaches us. In the preseason, they have looked impressive at times, and caught of guard at other times. (Keep in mind, as I write this I have only watched the first three preseason games. In my opinion, this final preseason game against the Bears will be more vanilla. The reason for this, both of the teams play again in the regular season.) It appears that the Browns will continue their struggles with stopping the run. They have struggled this preseason and training camp stopping the run. Jason Fisk, the weakest link on the defensive line, (though he has improved) has struggled against opposing teams centers. The linebackers haven?t shown up either. Andra Davis, one of the Browns defensive leaders, has yet to catch on to the 3-4. None of the linebackers appear ready for the change. The secondary looks like it will be the Browns best secondary since the return. The backup corners have done a great job with the absence of Baxter and McCutcheon. I don?t expect Romeo to work wonders with this defense. Though, if anyone can work wonders for a defense it would be Crennel. This defense will go through troubles of adjusting to the 3-4 early on. Having to face the potential that the Bengals offense brings, Bret Farve, and Peyton Manning in the first three weeks on the regular season is going to be a challenge. If the Browns defense can hold it?s own against these three high powered offenses then there may just be hope after all.

Fantasy Focus

I understand this year, there are leagues that are allowing teams to chose individual defensive players. So I decided to add this for those that are interested in who to look for on the Browns defense if there is a need.

Defensive Back, Sean Jones- This guy appears to be what many would call a STUD. He is a hard hitting safety that will eventually cause problems for opposing teams offenses once he learns the defense more thorough. I feel if anyone is worth a look in a fantasy league defensive line, it would be Jones. I expect him to get around 90 tackles, 2 interceptions and a few forced fumbles. He is the gem of the Browns secondary this year.

Defensive Lineman/Linebacker, Chaun Thompson- He has not been the most impressive linebacker out there on the Browns defense. I feel that Chaun will be doing what he does best after the preseason, and that?s pass rushing. Romeo has already voiced his opinion about Thompson in the past, and it was definitely a good one.