Ahtyba Rubin: Underrated Cleveland Browns DT Is Set for a Breakout 2012 Season

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistJuly 20, 2012

October 30, 2011; San Francisco, CA, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (71) warms up before the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Browns 20-10. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

Ahtyba Rubin is quite possibly the best-kept secret in the NFL. The hulking Cleveland Browns defensive tackle is one of the finest interior defenders in the league, despite his lack of recognition.

Rubin is a strong candidate for a breakout 2012 season. More focus should be on him this year following the injury to 2011 first-round draft choice Phil Taylor.

The five-year pro can answer the challenge and emerge as the true focal point for a burgeoning Browns defense. At 6'2" and 330 pounds, Rubin is a natural anchor for a defensive line scheme.

He began his career as part of a 3-4 scheme. However, the Browns' smart decision to switch back to a 4-3 in 2011 has helped Rubin become a more complete playmaker in the trenches.

His impressive off-the-snap quickness belies his bulk and has allowed Rubin to top 80 tackles in each of the last two seasons. He has demonstrated a knack for being around the ball and splitting double-teams.

Most importantly, allowing Rubin to take a shaded alignment over the center or line up in the B gaps has revealed a pass-rush effectiveness wasted by the 3-4's 2-gap duties. Rubin logged five sacks in 2011, a respectable number for a space-eater in the middle.

Rubin's ability to consistently collapse the pocket is the key to the Browns' 4-3 front. It's no coincidence that Jabaal Sheard enjoyed a productive rookie season as an edge rusher with Rubin creating plenty of push in the middle.

With Taylor out, the temptation might be to have Rubin act as more of a 2-gapper. However, coordinator Dick Jauron should cut down Rubin's read responsibilities and give him license to attack one gap more often.

His deceptive first-step quickness and improving hands technique can power Rubin through the line of scrimmage on a regular basis. This will create more negative plays, particularly in the run game.

Jauron needs to start funneling plays toward Rubin. Stacking outside linebackers next to defensive ends will force runners to try the middle and run right into Rubin.

At just 25, Rubin is already developing into the kind of dominating inside lineman every defense needs. A few tweaks to the scheme, and Rubin will be impossible for the rest of the league to ignore.