After four years of Romeo Crennel’s very conservative and “vanilla” defensive game plan, the 2009 Browns defense will reveal a new look for opposing offenses.
Browns’ defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, whose father, Buddy, created the “46” defense with the Chicago Bears in the 1980’s, will adopt the same scheme with his newest defensive project.
One of the reasons the Browns have struggled since returning to the NFL in 1999 is due to the inability to stop opposing offenses. Last season, the Browns recorded a measly 17 sacks as a team, second lowest only to the Kansas City Chiefs (10).
Ryan’s “46” scheme is designed around the concept of applying constant pressure at the line of scrimmage. This strategy hinders the opposing offense’s ability to move the ball on the ground and through the air.
The “46” defense was named after hard-hitting safety Doug Plank’s jersey number, who often played close to the line of scrimmage and played with reckless abandon.
The defensive base consists of four down linemen, three linebackers and a safety close to the line of scrimmage. The other two outside linebackers act as fifth and sixth down linemen, lining up side by side on the opposite side of the field from the rush end. The safety becomes the fourth safety, essentially.
The goal of this scheme is to create confusion for opposing quarterbacks because any of these eight defenders can rush the quarterback.
The only disadvantage of this scheme is it requires the two cornerbacks to play man-to-man coverage, possibly in a bump-and-run fashion. If they fall behind the receiver, the free safety is the only one who can help in support.
This essentially means that starting cornerbacks Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald will be on an “island” with themselves and the receiver they are assigned to cover.
Mangini has given a boost of confidence to Wright and McDonald, as well as free safety Brodney Pool, which suggests that he trusts their abilities to adapt well to the “46.”
“I liked McDonald’s aggressiveness,” Mangini said. “I liked his style of play even before I was the coach here.”
“With Eric, he is a very smart player and his improvement should continue as he continues to learn. He also has good feet.”
Mangini remembers when Pool was playing for the Oklahoma Sooners.
“The things I am seeing now, are things that I saw in college. Specifically where he ranked? I’m not sure, but he did have those same traits coming out of college that I see here today.”
Linebackers D’Qwell Jackson and Kamerion Wimbley have had different experiences in their first three years in the NFL.
Wimbley looked like a defensive stud his rookie year, as he compiled 11 sacks. However, over the past two years, he has managed to bring down opposing quarterbacks only nine times.
Jackson, who has started each game of his career, came into his own last season as he led the league with 154 tackles.
Ryan sees promise in both players.
“The sky’s the limit for that young man (Jackson),” Ryan said. “A blind man can see his talent.”
When asked about Wimbley’s sack total the past two seasons, Ryan said, “Numbers don’t tell the whole story. The young man has a great ability to rush the passer. We’re working with him to use his hands well, and we’re also working with him on doing more bull rushing and speed rushing.”
He added, “I think he’ll have a tremendous season for us.”
Based on Mangini and Ryan’s comments on some of the defensive personnel, it seems as though the Browns had the right players to succeed, but the proper coaching is what this team lacked to take it to the next level (playoffs).
We will see if the Browns new coaching staff can get players like Wimbley to realize and reach their full potential.