Cleveland Browns Preview: Defensive Line
The change in defensive schemes from a 3-4 to a 4-3 has drastically transformed the Browns' defensive line.
The 3-4 defense is based off the idea of having three large defensive linemen to take-up multiple blockers. This in turn allows the linebackers more freedom to blitz or get back into coverage. Dick Jauron's newly implemented 4-3 defense calls for four defensive linemen who must help stop the run and rush the quarterback.
This transition was a big reason why the Browns selected two defensive linemen with their first two picks in the NFL draft.
Also, it has become safe to assume that last year's midseason acquisition of Jayme Mitchell was because the front office knew Mangini was not likely to return as head coach. So, they did the right thing in trading a seventh-round pick for a player who they believed would fit well within the 4-3 defense.
Although the unit is considered young, the defensive line has a good chance to exceed expectations, mainly due to the front office's ability to target players who have potential to thrive in the newly installed defense.
Right Defensive End
Starter: Jabaal Sheard, Rookie (6'3'', 264 lbs.)
The Browns expect Sheard to start right away after drafting him in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft. If he can stay healthy the entire season, expect Sheard to lead the team in sacks. He may not be the most athletic lineman, but he is able to overcome that by intelligence and good technique.
It's going to be hard for him being teamed-up against some of the top left tackles in the league, but a strong second half of the season will make-up for a presumed slow start.
2nd String: Marcus Benard (4th season) / Auston English (2nd season)
Both players played defensive end in college and were both converted to linebackers in the 3-4 scheme. Now, they will be asked to move back to the defensive line and provide a pass rush during passing situations.
If Benard and Engish both stay in the back-up role, it would be safe to assume that they could amass eight to eleven sacks between themselves.
Back-Ups: Jabarl Fletcher (R)
3-Technique Defensive Tackle
Starter: Ahtyba Rubin, 5th Season (6'2'', 330 lbs.)
Rubin developed into one of the most underrated nose tackles in the league. Now, Rubin is being asked to move to a three-technique defensive lineman.
Listed at 330 lbs., expect Rubin to be a little bit leaner and quicker now that he has to rush the quarterback more often. Many believe this is Rubin's chance to become a disrupted force in the opposing team's backfield.
I would not be surprised if he totals seven to nine sacks on the season.
2nd String: Brian Shaefering (3rd season)
Shaefering will play all over the defensive line for the Browns. But, if an injury to Rubin occurs, he would be asked to step in and provide the pass rush from the defensive tackle position.
He's a little bit small for tackle, but his relentless motor will allow him to notch a couple sacks this season.
Buck-Ups: Scott Paxson (3rd Season), Ko Quaye (2nd Season)
1-Technique Defensive Tackle
Starter: Phil Taylor, Rookie (6'4'', 340 lbs.)
Taylor, the 21st overall pick, is expected to start right away even though he has missed a few days of training camp due to a contract dispute.
His one-technique position will allow his fellow linemen to rush the quarterback more easily while Taylor will be taking up multiple blockers. But, his production is dependent upon his ability to stay in shape and play the majority of defensive snaps.
Expect Taylor to lead the defensive line in tackles but only compile three or four sacks.
2nd String: Travis Ivey (2nd season)
He's a big body (6'4'', 330 lbs.) who was full of potential when coming out of Maryland. But, work ethic and attitude has always been questioned, which is why he went undrafted last season.
He would do a sufficient job if Taylor were to get injured. Although, it would be scary if the team's run defense were relying-on Ivey every week.
Back-Ups: Scott Paxson (3rd season), Ko Quaye (2nd season)
Left Defensive End
Starter: Jayme Mitchell (6'6'' 285 lbs.) 6th season
Behind Taylor, Mitchell is the most physically imposing defensive lineman on the team. His right defensive end position within Jauron's 4-3 defense is demanded to rush the passer but also stop the run.
It is no surprise that many teams like running the ball to the right-side of the offensive line. So teams who run the 4-3 must acquire a larger defensive end to play on their left side.
Mitchell has a great opportunity in Cleveland, and many people (including GM Tom Heckert) believe that he has the physical attributes to be a quality starter.
Don't be surprised if Mitchell becomes a break-out player for the Browns and gets 55 to 70 tackles with seven or nine sacks.
2nd String: Derreck Robinson (5th season)
He had 24 tackles and one sack last season. Robinson is also a larger defensive end (6'4'', 295 lbs.) like Mitchell. He doesn't have great pass rushing skills, which is why it will be hard for him to see the field.
If opposing teams are in passing situations, expect Mitchell to be replaced with a small defensive end rather than playing Robinson, who's more of a run-stopper.
Back-Ups: Brian Sanford (3rd season), Kyle Anderson (R)