Rookie Safety Larry Asante Makes Push to Start for Cleveland Browns

J GatskieCorrespondent IJune 4, 2010

Coach Eric Mangini has gone on the record as saying he would definitely be open to starting two rookie safeties.

According to Mangini, "If they’re the best guys, you may take some lumps early because they are rookies, but typically those guys continue to move up and excel as they play and gain experience.”

That leaves the door cracked open for Nebraska rookie Larry Asante to shoulder his way right through it.

Asante is a 6'0", 211-lb. rookie safety who was a fifth round pick out of Nebraska in April's NFL draft. Many publications had him rated higher than Browns second round choice T.J. Ward.

While at Nebraska, he averaged more than 70 tackles a year and was a consistent, durable force at the strong safety position.

As a draft prospect, the scouting reports on Asante listed him as a prototypical, big-hitting, in the box safety who is an excellent tackler and teammate. He is durable, smart, and possesses a high football IQ.

The major knocks on Asante are his 40-yard dash time of 4.63 seconds and his hands.

During his first two years at Nebraska, Asante had trouble in pass coverage and was routinely beaten, but according to reports out of Nebraska he worked tirelessly at improving his skills during offseasons.

Last season, the Nebraska Cornhuskers finished No. 1 in the nation in scoring and pass efficiency defense, and Asante played a key role in their success. He minimized his mental mistakes, and his pass coverage skills improved markedly.

During the team's rookie minicamp, Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto noted that Browns coaches were "pleasantly surprised with Asante's pass coverage skills." He also said that Asante was prepared for the classroom as well as the field.

Currently in Browns OTAs, Asante is battling fellow rookie T.J. Ward and veterans Mike Adams, Ray Ventrone, Nick Sorensen, and DeAngelo Smith for reps at safety.

Last year's starter, Abe Elam, is a restricted free agent who is unsigned. Elam's absence has been beneficial to the rookies, who desire every possible rep they can get.

According to Chris Pokorny of DawgsByNature, Asante has been impressive in pass coverage during OTAs.

Pluto writes, "Nebraska safety Larry Asante has been impressive in coverage and with his overall play. That's encouraging, because the best part of the rookie's game is supposed to be his tackling."

Asante had been working with the first team defense, and his ability to diagnose pass plays, while not a surprise, has been impressive.

However, on June 2nd T.J. Ward took the reps with the first team defense. This may have been a normal pattern of substitution, or it may be the normal ebb and flow of competition.

Eventually, Abe Elam will sign a contract and join the competition at safety also, but Asante can't play scared of that day. He needs to continue playing at a high level and absorb everything that is thrown his way.

He still has another session of OTAs on June 7-8th, a minicamp from June 10-12th, and training camp to impress the coaches.

Asante needs to force the coaches into playing him as much as possible in the preseason. Nothing simulates the NFL like real, game-time experience.

NFL teams do not usually anticipate finding starters in the fifth round, but if Asante continues to sharpen his coverage skills and his speed is not exposed as a weakness, the Browns have found a bargain on their roster who may be a starter as a rookie.