A season ago, the Ray Horton led Cleveland Browns defense held their own against NFL opponents. They ranked third in yards per play and only allowed 332.4 yards per game, good enough for a top ten rank. This season, a new coordinator and leadership reinforcements arrive. While some fan favorites and key pieces have departed, their replacements will be just fine. Let’s look at the new and improved Browns defense.
For 2014, the Browns will have more than just a mascot named “Swagger” leading their dawgs out of the tunnel, they have Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby as well. Over the off-season, orange-and-brown nation saw two fan favorites leave for greener pastures – TJ Ward and D’Qwell Jackson. However, the Browns quickly addressed the situation and added homegrown Whitner and respected NFL linebacker Dansby to their roster. Together, they bring 14 playoff appearances and 18 years of NFL experience to the struggling franchise. Like fine wine, each have gotten better with age.
Coming back, the Browns have their core nucleus of players in front, Jabaal Sheard, Barkevious Mingo, Paul Kruger, Craig Robertson, Desmond Bryant, Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, John Hughes, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, and Billy Winn. Add some other veterans like Zac Diles, Tank Carder, Eric Martin, and Darius Eubanks to the mix and there are definitely some spots up for grabs.
In the secondary, Cleveland now appears to be stacked. The Browns went heavy on defensive players in the draft and grabbed two of the best cornerbacks in the nation in this writer’s opinion. On paper, the Browns seem to have to true shutdown cornerbacks in Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert. Former undrafted rookie free agent and third year safety Tashaun Gipson returns as the undisputed starter next to Whitner. Gipson had a great 2013 campaign with five interceptions, 11 pass defenses, and 95 tackles. Veterans Buster Skrine, Johnson Bademosi, newcomer Aaron Berry, and Jordan Poyer will all fight for positions and final roster spots. Skrine should be a lock for the nickel package though.
Some intriguing defensive players to keep an eye on this training camp are former seventh round pick Armonty Bryant, Gilbert, Chris Kirksey and Pierre Desir from this year’s draft, Josh Aubrey the defensive star of training camp last year, Eubanks, and Trufant who has made a name for himself as a special teams demon throughout his career in the NFL.
New defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil will lead the group this season. Head coach Mike Pettine has full confidence in him and has coached with him since 2009. Make no mistake, the Browns want to have a nastiness to them on defense and O’Neil looks to bring it. The man that he will rely on is the Cleveland native Whitner. After the fifth OTA practice in May, O’Neil had this to say about his defense and Whitner, “We want to intimidate people, that’s what we want to be on defense, so I think that Donte is going to be one part of the defense that helps us do that. Every great defense in the NFL has an enforcer. He’s ours.”
Just by simple logic and speed, the Browns should be better on defense in both aspects of the game than a season ago. Training camp is where it all begins and it starts in just two short days.
Ryan Ruiz is the Cleveland Browns Beat Writer for The Inscriber: Digital Magazine. You can follow him on Facebook: Ryan (BrownsWriter) Ruiz and Twitter @ryanpruiz24. Ryan is also a Browns correspondent for The Sportsfix. Tune in every Friday at noon on www.thesportsfix.net. Email Ryan at [email protected]://22.214.171.124/~theinscr