A Forgotten Issue? The Cleveland Browns Must Solidify the D-Line in 2010

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A Forgotten Issue? The Cleveland Browns Must Solidify the D-Line in 2010
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Is was a forgone conclusion that the Cleveland Browns needed to make improvements to an inconsistent defense following the 2009 season. The unit gave up an average of 389.3 yards a game, second to last in the NFL.

The secondary couldn't cover, the linebackers couldn't tackle, and the defense finished ranked 29th and 28th against the pass and run, respectively.

Everyone knows the front office in Cleveland has put much of its resources this offseason into revamping the secondary. A trade was made for Eagles CB Sheldon Brown, a former Pro Bowler, who hasn't missed a game since becoming a full time starter in 2004.

Next, team president Mike Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert used three draft picks in the 2010 draft to further bolster the secondary. 

The Browns drafted Florida CB Joe Haden with the seventh overall pick and selected two safeties: second-round pick T.J. Ward and fifth-rounder Larry Asante.

Cleveland signed free agent LB Scott Fujita and acquired Eagles LB Chris Gocong in the same trade that brought in Brown.

With restricted free agents D'Qwell Jackson and Matt Roth now under contract, the Browns look to have plenty of quality player to compete for playing time and depth at the linebacker position.

However, in the Browns 3-4 defensive scheme, one of the most important, yet under appreciated aspects is having the right personnel on the defensive line.

The big guys up front are responsible for plugging up running lanes and occupying blockers, freeing up the linebackers to make the play on the football.

With a good defensive line, a 3-4 defense can be dominant. Without one, the same unit can look lost.

With the line being such and important part of the defense, it may seem a bit surprising to see it being almost overlooked this offseason.

With the exception of Shaun Rogers' possible suspension for bringing a loaded handgun into an airport, there has been almost no talk of the Browns' defensive line.

While there are several talented players on the Cleveland Browns roster, exactly who will play and at what position remains a big question. One that needs an answer heading into training camp.

Nose tackle Shaun Rogers is one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the NFL, but has often been criticized for free-lancing plays and not sticking to assignments.

Even if Rogers doesn't miss any game time due to suspension, there has been talk of moving him to defensive end to allow third-year player Ahtyba Rubin to see more time on the field.

Rubin is more of a natural 3-4 nose tackle than Rogers and was very effective as a starter last year following Rogers' season ending ankle injury.

Rubin is a 330-lb load who eats up blockers along the offensive line. He has a ton of upside and all of the physical tools to develop into one of the league's premier nose tackles.

While the idea of having Rubin and Rogers on the field at the same time could create headaches for opposing offensive coordinators, there is little proven depth behind the two and there remains the possibility of Rogers being under suspension to start the season.

Ten-year veteran Robaire Smith looks to be a favorite to start at one of the defensive end positions. He is a reliable, if overlooked player who tallied 62 tackles in 15 games played in 2009.

Kenyon Coleman, a former New York Jet brought in my coach Mangini, also returns after starting 13 games in 2009, accumulating 38 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

C.J. Mosley, another former Jet, saw limited playing time in 2009. While he only recorded 18 tackles this past season, he does have the versatility to play multiple positions on the line.

Entering the mix this season are two promising rookies in sixth round pick Clifton Geathers and undrafted rookie Kwaku Danso.

Geathers is a monster of a defensive end with all the physical attributes you would look for in a prospect at 6'7" and 299lbs.

He is a bit unpolished and does come with a few character issues, but Geathers does have the drive to make himself a better player and with a little experience could become an absolute terror on the football field.

Kwaku Danso is a bit of an anomaly as a 28 year old rookie out of East Carolina who only appeared in three college games. His imposing physical build, however, impressed defensive coordinator Rob Ryan enough to bring him into camp for a tryout.

The 6'5", 338-pound freak has thus far done enough to remain on the Browns roster, though he has a long way to go toward making the team.

Head coach Eric Mangini places a lot of emphasis on player versatility, so it should be no surprise to see a lot of players in the defensive line rotation, at multiple positions.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan uses many elaborate defensive schemes, so getting players comfortable playing multiple positions and building depth will be key heading into 2010.

Overall, the defensive line of the Cleveland Browns looks to have the players needed to be a stable part of the defensive unit.

If the line can come together before the start of the season and some of the younger players can develop quickly, look for the defensive line to make huge strides in 2010 toward improving the defense as a whole.

With fresh players rotating in and out of the game and the ability to attack from all angles, the Cleveland Browns may well on its way toward finally having the strong defensive line that can make its 3-4 defense dominant. 

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