As the Browns prepare to embark upon their second season under Pat Shurmur there are many questions that remain. With training camp opening Sat. July 28, we’re going to take a position-by-position analysis of the current roster as the team heads to camp over the next two weeks.
We’ve looked at the offense and now in part five we look at the defensive line in the first story on the defense.
Candidates: Juqua Parker, Ahtyba Rubin, Frostee Rucker, Brian Schaefering, Marcus Benard, Scott Paxson, Brian Sanford, Auston English, Emmanuel Stephens, Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard, Kiante Tripp, William Green, John Hughes, Billy Wynn.
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The Browns suffered their biggest blow before they even got started as Phil Taylor tore his pectoral muscle lifting weights and is expected to miss at least the first half of the season. However, the Browns did draft John Hughes in the third-round and Billy Wynn in the sixth-round. Both players will be expected to contribute immediately.
Ahtyba Rubin has emerged into one of the top players at his position and a team leader. He set a great example in helping Taylor as a rookie and there’s no reason he won’t be a great help to Hughes and Wynn.
The Browns were not very active at all in free agency, but the two players they did sign were both defensive linemen. Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker were added to provide experience and depth on the line. Rucker is penciled in to replace Jayme Mitchell at right end. Both Parker and Rucker are the two most experienced players on the line with 19 years between them. Emmanuel Stephens replaced Mitchell last season, but ended up on injured reserve with a pectoral injury.
Jabaal Sheard had a good rookie season after switching from right end to left end and finished the season with sacks. Sheard could be ready to have a breakout season. Marcus Benard is recovered from a motorcycle accident and looked good in OTAs and minicamp, getting to the quarterback often in scrimmages.
Parker (6-2, 250, 12th year, Oklahoma State) – Not too many times does a team sign a 34-year old unrestricted free agent, but Tom Heckert has a history with Parker and expects him to come in and provide immediate depth and a pass rush from the outside.
Rucker (6-3, 280, 7th year, USC) – Heckert said Rucker was the player the Browns targeted in free agency and paid him big money to step in and be the starting right end. He should stabilize the end position opposite of Sheard.
Rubin (6-2, 330, 5th year, Iowa State) –Rubin had his career best season with 83 tackles, including five sacks. Rubin played at a Pro Bowl caliber, as he was second in the NFL in tackles among interior linemen.
Benard (6-2, 256, 4th year, Jackson State) – Benard played in the first four games before being involved in a motorcycle accident, which sent him to injured reserve for the season. He had two tackles and a half sack before his season ended. He had 7.5 sacks in 2010 and the Browns are hoping he can return to that form.
Schaefering (6-4, 295, 3rd year, Lindenwood) – Schaefering played in all 16 games and had 29 tackles with a half sack. He had 8 tackles against the Ravens. He has been a steady performer, who provides depth in the rotation.
Paxson (6-4, 290, 3rd year, Penn State) – Paxson played in all 16 games and was credited with 21 tackles, including a sack. He also had a fumble recovery. His best game was when he had five tackles against the Jaguars.
Sanford (6-2, 280, 1st year, Temple) –Sanford spent the majority of the season on the practice squad, but was elevated to the 53-man roster for the final five games. He ended up with five tackles.
English (6-3, 250, 2nd year, Oklahoma) – English played in seven games and had four tackles after starting the season on the practice squad. English made the practice squad after a stellar preseason with 11 tackles and four sacks.
Stephens (6-3, 255, 2nd year, Mississippi) – Stephens played in 11 games, including three starts replacing Mitchell at right end. His season ended with a pectoral injury that put him on injured reserve. He finished the season with 15 tackles. He was acquired off of waivers from the Falcons just prior to the season.
Taylor (6-3, 335, 2nd year, Baylor) – Taylor started all 16 games after being the team’s first-round draft choice last season. Taylor totaled 59 tackles with four sacks, which was second among NFL rookies for interior linemen. The Browns hope he mends quickly and can contribute in 2012.
Sheard (6-2, 255, 2nd year, Pittsburgh) – Sheard started all 16 games (one at right end and 15 at left end). Sheard had 55 tackles, including 8.5 sacks. He also had a propensity to cause fumbles as he stripped the ball five times and recovered one. Sheard was 12th in the AFC in sacks and finished second among AFC rookies in sacks.
Tripp (6-6, 276, 2nd year, Georgia) – Tripp was picked up after the Falcons waived him and he spent five weeks on the Browns practice squad before being elevated to the 53-man roster. He appeared in three games and had one tackle. His biggest battle might be in court as he was arrested and charged with burglary.
Hughes (6-2, 320, Rookie, Cincinnati) –Many eyebrows were raised when the Browns turned in his name as high as they did in the third-round. Hughes even admitted he didn’t think he would be drafted until the final day of the draft. However, with the injury to Taylor, all eyes will be on him to see if he can step right in next to Rubin and play.
Wynn (6-4, 295, Rookie, Boise State) – Wynn was drafted much lower than most experts had him going and he could complement Hughes as the duo tries to hold down the tackle spot until Taylor returns.
Green (6-3, 250, Rookie, Florida) – It will be tough for an undrafted rookie free agent to make the team with as many young players on the roster. It’s also not a good sign when as a defensive linemen, you’re jersey number assigned is 49.
Better in 2011? The injury to Taylor was a big blow but because it happened early enough to allow them to make adjustments. They are high on the two players they drafted at the position and think Hughes and Wynn can fill the void. When Taylor returns, the experience the rookies get should be invaluable down the road. Rubin is entering his prime and Sheard is poised to have a breakout season. Rucker should provide stability at right end and the Browns have a plethora of depth with up and coming players behind them. Benard could also give a big shot in the arm on the outside pass rush.