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Yep, we need him.
Two rookie tanks rolled into the AFC North when DEs Jabaal Sheard and Phil Taylor landed in Cleveland. Whenever one is tempted to despair over the Cleveland front office’s mystically unproductive personnel strategies, it’s wise to take a moment and reflect fondly upon these two.
Young Mr. Sheard wasted no time in establishing himself as a NFL keeper. He started all 16 games, made 55 tackles and eight and one-half sacks. He also batted down some passes. Although not without shortcomings, he will indisputably be starting on the left.
DT Phil Taylor racked up 59 tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble, while also starting every game.
Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert may seem perplexingly myopic when it comes to offense, but it’s hard to argue for a bigger pair of draft-choice gems. Check.
Fourth-year pro Ahtyba Rubin is an honest-to-goodness NFL Nose Tackle who also excels at 4-3 DT. These men do not grow on trees. And if they did, it would have to be Sequoias.
So the Browns are set, right? Well…they would be if the line stopped in the middle. RDE Jayme Mitchell struggled so badly that the team just released him. His backup was a tweener linebacker (Marcus Benard) who played in only four games.
Fortunately, Holmgren and Heckert (no doubt with some prompting from defensive coordinator Dick Jauron) stepped up to the plate in free agency and signed defensive ends Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker. Between the two, they can defend both the run and the pass. Rucker will probably start on the right in place of the departed Mitchell, while Parker is penciled in behind Sheard.
The team also re-signed DT Brian Schaefering and are (on paper anyway) keeping Marcus Benard in behind Rucker at DE.
However, don’t be surprised if the Browns don’t also draft a few defensive linemen. Now that the New York Giants have beaten the Patriots twice in the Super Bowl on the backs of their ferocious D-line, it seems that the rest of the league is finally getting on board with the “lots of big, scary men shuffling in and out constantly” philosophy.
And that would create position battles for all of the reserve slots and, possibly, the right end.