2013 NFL Scouting Combine – Players to Watch – Defense
In continuing the process of reviewing a few athletes in the Scouting Combine, let’s take a look at some of the defenders that will be there. Many believe the defense is further ahead of the offense, but with the regime change and a switch to the 3-4 defense, the Browns’ roster will see a fair amount of turnover in the coming months. A majority will likely occur in the front seven, where defensive linemen and linebackers will be shuffled in and out.
Defensive Line: Barkevious Mingo (Defensive End – LSU), Star Lotulelei (Defensive Tackle – Utah), Bjoern Werner (Defensive End – Florida State), Damontre Moore (Defensive End – Texas A&M), and Dion Jordan (Defensive End – Oregon).
Conclusion: There is a great chance this position will be the Browns’ first round draft selection – the team needs a dominant pass rusher and there are a couple here that fit the bill. Lotulelei is the best at his position and may fall to number six, but with Phil Taylor, Athyba Rubin, John Hughes, and Billy Winn already on the roster – the team will (likely) focus primarily on the end position. All four athletes will alternate between having their hand in the dirt and standing upright, but they will be called upon to get to the opposing quarterback regularly. Jordan is the most athletic of the group; initially recruited as a wide receiver out of high school. Werner is perceived to be more of a defensive end in the 4-3 (bigger and slower), so the front office may not be as high on him as other franchises. Nonetheless, watching (testing, etc.) this group at the combine might be the most important task for Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi, as well as the scouts.
Linebacker: Jarvis Jones (Outside Linebacker – Georgia), Manti Te’o (Inside Linebacker – Notre Dame), Alec Ogletree (Inside Linebacker – Georgia), Chase Thomas (Outside Linebacker – Stanford), and Sean Porter (Outside Linebacker – Texas A&M).
Conclusion: Adding several linebackers to the current group should be a priority this offseason. The team needs to add at least another member inside (to pair with D’Qwell Jackson), as well as outside (to go opposite Jabaal Sheard – who was formerly a defensive end). Jones is the only option of the group at number six; he has had previous ailments that could steer the Browns from drafting him, however. Besides the whole “Catfishing” story around Te’o, I hope the franchise avoids the linebacker – the Heisman candidate played extremely poor in his last collegiate game. If Ogletree, Thomas, and Porter can slide down to the second or third rounds, I could see Lombardi making a move to help out the linebacker corps. Before that happens, the Scouting Combine must commence; the linebackers will go through multiple tests to define their strengths and weaknesses.
Safety: Kenny Vaccaro (Strong Safety – Texas), Eric Reid (Free Safety – LSU), Matt Elam (Free Safety – Florida), J.J. Wilcox (Free Safety – Georgia Southern), and Shawn Williams (Strong Safety – Georgia).
Conclusion: After signing as a free agent two seasons ago, Usama Young has been rather disappointing for the Browns. The free safety could possibly be replaced this season, especially by an early draft selection. Tashaun Gipson showed some promise, but if there is a better alternative out there – the team will not hesitate to bring him on board. I really liked Elam his season; if he or Reid are available it could be great for the organization. T.J. Ward has played well when he’s been healthy over the past few seasons, but the strong safety has sustained several injuries dating back to 2010. As a result, the team may pass over a strong safety option this year, but nothing surprises me with the Cleveland Browns. The speed and agility tests for this group are important, but the Browns need a guy who can cover receivers exceptionally. This indicates great closing speed and awareness are of importance, both of which are found on game film.
Cornerback: Dee Milliner (Alabama), Xavier Rhodes (Florida State), Desmond Trufant (Washington), Robert Alford (Southeast Louisiana), Blidi Wreh-Wilson (Connecticut), and B.W. Webb (William & Mary).
Conclusion: With Sheldon Brown getting older, his status with the team may be in jeopardy. The Browns need another dominant cornerback opposite Joe Haden – many opponents were able to easily pass and have big days last season. To counteract this, the Browns cannot hope that a late round pick (aka Buster Skrine, Trevin Wade, etc.) can overcome his weaknesses and turn into a starting NFL cornerback. Milliner and Rhodes are first round picks, but both are perceived as “reaches” where the Browns are drafting. However, Trufant helped himself a great deal in the Senior Bowl – perhaps he can evolve into a solid professional. All have very good ability though, and I hope each test well in Indianapolis (both on and off the field).