BEREA, Ohio — The Browns starting defense thus far in the preseason has been, virtually lights out.
In seven series, they have forced five punts, created one turnover and allowed three points.
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Defensive coordinator Ray Horton is pleased where the Browns are at for this point of the preseason, but he is far from satisfied.
“I am happy with where we are in Week 2 of the preseason,” Horton said Saturday before practice. “Obviously, Miami will pose a different problem because it is a real game. It is live action and starters are in every play. Am I satisfied? No. Do I think we are on pace? Yeah. Do I think we will get better? Yeah, I do.”
Horton said the defense is trying to make improvements each and every week.
“It is a good starting point,” he said. All we have been trying to instill in the players is to get better today, get better today, get better today. Not tomorrow; just get better today. It is a good start. That is all it is. It’s preseason. Some guys don’t play and some guys do. We are trying to get better and get ready for Miami coming up.”
In the preseason opener against the Rams, Phil Taylor forced a fumble on the Rams first drive, which Buster Skrine recovered. On the Rams second series, the Browns forced a three-and-out punt, which turned into a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown by Travis Benjamin. By the Rams’ third drive, many of the starters were already on the sidelines for the night.
In the second preseason game with the Lions, the defense forced the Lions to three straight three-and-out punts on their first three possessions. The Lions didn’t pick up a first down until their fourth series, but that resulted in a punt, as well.
On the Lions, fifth possession, they drove 47 yards for their first score as David Akers kicked a 48-yard field goal to give the Lions their only score against the Browns first unit.
Strong safety T.J. Ward has missed both preseason games as a precautionary measure with a hamstring injury. Chris Owens and Leon McFadden, projected to be two of the team’s top four cornerbacks have also missed time McFadden has yet to play with a groin injury and Owens missed the first game with a foot injury.
Horton’s defense was billed to be disruptive and predicated on the unexpected with a lot of pressure from the front seven. However, that hasn’t been the case, thus far. The only sack generated by the front line was by rookie Barkevious Mingo in the first game with the Rams and it was negated when Rob Chudzinski accepted a penalty.
Horton said there’s a simple reason the Browns have not had big numbers so far in turnovers and in sacks with the first unit. Through two games, the Browns have created three turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble) all against the Rams. They’ve had three sacks by Quentin Groves, Brian Sanford and Armonty Bryant.
“I have called a different game in the preseason because I want our guys to show me something,” he said. “I don’t call a lot of pressure. I am more interested in the maturation process of guys individually and how they react one-on-one, and let them go. The game plan is called differently.”
Horton said a lot of the credit goes to the offense for keeping the defense off of the field.
“The bottom line is our offense is doing a fantastic job keeping us off the field,” he said. “As long as we keep rolling like we are on offense, they will help us on defense. Most of the credit that we have been getting is really a reflection of the offense scoring, keeping us off the field, and we are fresh. That is a big part of our success is the offense’s success.”
Mingo Back: Browns rookie LB was released from the Cleveland Clinic and was out watching practice Saturday. Mingo had been in the hospital for the past two nights with a bruised lung suffered in the Lions game. Mingo was wearing his 51 jersey, but did not practice.
“I’m feeling really good,” Mingo said after practice. “I wanted to get out of the hospital (the day before).”
Mingo said he doesn’t know the timetable for him to return to action.
“They said to just let it rest up and let it heal,” he said. “They haven’t (told him), but whenever the coaches and doctors come to a conclusion that i’m ready, I’ll be back.
“I trust their decision and their diagnosis.”
Mingo said he doesn’t know when he was injured, but thinks it was on the first special team play he was in.
“I was just playing special teams and ran down and it didn’t feel right,” he said. “I couldn’t catch my breath and my coach thought I should see the trainer. I think it happened on the first play, but the trainers did a good job of recognizing my symptoms.”
Mingo said he has no pain in his ribs.
“My ribs are perfect,” he said. “There is no pain or bruising. It took the doctors by surprise. They thought there should be some soreness.”
Mingo did say he was spitting up a little blood during the game and afterwards.
The injury is rare, but on Saturday Eddie Royal, receiver with the Chargers was also diagnosed with a bruised lung.
“Wow! I hope it’s not contagious,” Mingo said. “It’s very unusual. I try to think back on what happened and i didnt feel i had any hits that would’ve cause that.”
Horton said Mingo’s missing time will hurt him, but he can overcome it.
“For a young guy, he needs every rep he can get,” Horton said. “He is smart. He is on page. He is very smart. For us, it’s just reps. It’s seeing a different look. It’s seeing (Colts QB) Andrew Luck. It’s seeing different fronts, what they have and how they want to block him. It will retard a little bit, but he is pretty gifted in what he does and he picks things up fast. How much? I can’t give you a quantitative answer, but it will hurt him a little bit.”
“I think this is the best way to go through (the learning process),” he said. “I’m missing some valuable reps that will help me during the season.”
Horton said the Browns are fortunate to have depth at outside linebacker.
“We have a lot of players at a lot of positions who can play for us,” he said. “I said that earlier in our first press conference (before camp) out here; that depth is a key for us. We have quality players at a lot of quality positions. A lot of people use the mantra, ‘Next man up.’ We believe in that philosophy that it doesn’t matter who the starters are, it is give me 11 guys who want to go out and play and can play. He is one of our 11, so will it hurt our team? Yeah, it will hurt our team because of our depth, but we will get him back soon and we will plug him right back in.”
Owens Missing: CB Chris Owens was not at practice with an undisclosed illness. He played against the Lions after missing the Rams game with an injury to the arch in his foot. DB Buster Skrine was in Owens position at practice with DB Trevin Wade in the nickel.
Bryant Out: DL Desmond Bryant sat out of practice with back spasms. He missed a practice earlier in training camp with the same condition Other players on the side with trainers were: WR David Nelson (knee), P T.J. Conley (groin), K Brandon Bogotay (groin), WR Jordan Norwood (hamstring) and WR Naaman Roosevelt (hamstring). Several other players remained out: OL Shawn Lauvao (ankle), OL Jason Pinkston (ankle), TE Gary Barnidge (shouder), RB Dion Lewis (leg), OL Ryan Miller (head) and Mingo (lung).
Bryant was replaced by DL Billy Winn in practice.
DB Trevin Wade was injured during practice and came off the field with a shoulder injury.
Gilkey In: Rookie OL Garrett Gilkey practiced with the starters at right guard with Pinkston and Lauvao out. Backup OL Oniel Cousins took reps at right guard during practice. Cousins has been primarily a tackle.
Horton High on Aubrey: DB Josh Aubrey started against the Lions at strong safety in place of T.J. Ward. Aubrey was an undrafted free agent signed out of Stephen F. Austin and he has made the most of his opportunities. He had four tackles against the Lions.
“I think that every NFL roster has a Josh Aubrey, meaning somebody comes out of the woodwork,” Horton said. “We always preach that somebody will make our team on special teams and be a surprise. He’s doing all of little things right. He’s running the defense; he’s taking advantage of his opportunity with his chance. We always preach to our free agents as they come in, we can give you an opportunity and a chance. That’s all that we can offer a young man is the opportunity and a chance to make the team. He’s taking advantage of that with his mental capacity, learning the defense and his physical play. He’s been one of the impressive free agents and there’s always somebody that makes a team like that.”
Horton said that Aubrey has improved and picked up the defense throughout training camp.
“It’s been a progression and we give him more,” he said. “The more he can handle, the more we give him. He’s got a lot of poise and his fellow teammates, his peers, trust him in the game. That’s a big part of it; can you trust the guy next to you to do his job and is he doing it? There’ll always be a guy that comes out and you go, ‘Wow, he’s better than we thought,’ and sometimes he just needs a shot. You can ask the players this; I showed a clip of Victor Cruz because he was a free agent that made it in the league.
“There’s always a guy like that, and can you be our Victor Cruz and make it?” he said. “You try to show them examples of guys in the NFL that make it, because we don’t always know everything about a drafted player or undrafted player. There’s always somebody that you miss on because you can’t measure certain things, and he’s got one of those intangible qualities that you can’t measure all of the time.”
Horton said Aubrey played well and has passed the test thus far.
“Maybe he’s a young guy that doesn’t understand what’s going on yet,” he said. “But I was excited to see him (Thursday) night when the lights came on with the first group and what he did. He looked like a veteran out there and maybe he is wise beyond his years.”