Safety positions could be cause for concern for Browns defense

Kim LaknerCorrespondent IJuly 7, 2009

LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 19: Running back Clinton Portis #26 of the Washington Redskins stretches the ball over the goal-line for a touchdown, while being pulled back by safety Brodney Pool #21 of the Cleveland Browns on October 19, 2008 at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, Bob Sanders, and…Abram Elam?

Okay, Elam is not in that class quite yet, and he may never reach that elite status. However, head coach Eric Mangini is comfortable with him, and Elam is familiar playing in Mangini’s system. He will also be able to assist his partner in the defensive backfield, Brodney Pool.

There was speculation that the Browns were discussing bringing in former Bears safety Mike Brown. Reports were saying that Mangini and general manager George Kokinis were looking at Brown as a player that could provide depth behind Elam and Pool.

Currently, Mike Adams is listed as the primary backup behind the two starters.

Mangini has also been discussing giving special teams specialist Josh Cribbs reps at free safety. However, it is unrealistic to think that Cribbs can step in and start, or be able to fill in, due to his inexperience.

Last season against the Denver Broncos, the Browns squandered a 10-point lead in the third quarter, which was jump-started by a 94-yard touchdown by Eddie Royal from Jay Cutler.

Granted, cornerback Brandon McDonald made a poor play on the ball, but there was absolutely no help over the top from the safety position until Royal was about 10 yards away from scoring. That player was Brodney Pool, and safety Sean Jones was nowhere to be found.

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After the game, running back Jamal Lewis accused players on the Browns defense of “quitting.” That poor angle by McDonald, and the lack of help from the safety position, may have been the play to which Lewis was referring.

Mangini and Kokinis may have agreed with that assessment because they never seriously considered bringing Jones back this season.

Elam played for the New York Jets for two seasons before being dealt to Cleveland in the deal that sent quarterback Mark Sanchez to New York.

This will be the first season that Elam will have an opportunity to start. Last season, he filled in for Eric Smith and registered 69 tackles (48 solo), two sacks, one interception, and three forced fumbles.

Perhaps his most memorable forced fumble was against the Buffalo Bills. The Jets were trailing 27-24 with about two minutes left, and Elam rushed on a blitz and slapped the ball away from quarterback J.P. Losman.

Defensive end Shaun Ellis picked up the fumble and stumbled 11 yards to end zone to give the Jets a 31-27 lead, and eventually the victory.

Pool has been inconsistent in his four-year career with the Browns. Much of his up-and-down play can be attributed to the multiple concussions that he has sustained.

Last season he recorded 65 tackles (60 solo), and a career-high three interceptions. Perhaps a new defensive philosophy being instilled by defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will benefit Pool.

To put the Browns’ safety situation in perspective, the lack of a pass rush has really hurt the performance of not only the safeties, but the corner backs as well. It is almost impossible to expect defensive backs to be able to cover receivers and tight ends for six or seven seconds on every play.

If you go back to former Browns cornerback Anthony Henry’s rookie season in 2001, he led the team, and was tied with Ronde Barber for the league lead, with 10 interceptions. The Browns defense brought down opposing quarterbacks 43 times, a far cry from the 17 sacks last season.

If Ryan can figure out how to generate a consistent pass rush, the play of the linebackers and defensive backs will improve drastically.

Until then, the safety positions on the defense could struggle yet again.