Earlier this week, we mined the Browns’ offense in search of the best players to follow throughout the season. Today, we look at the defense in hopes that there are some gentlemen worth investing in. Who should be your guy when the foes have the ball? Decide for yourself.
First, look to the secondary—Joe Haden, Donte Whitner and company. Haden is an actual, real-life Pro Bowl cornerback, and more importantly, he has gone all-out in support of the Cavs and Indians. Donte, as you likely know, is a proper Clevelander and Ohioan, having attended Glenville and Ohio State. I sat with his grandmother at training camp last week, and she was a delightful lady (She has not met LeBron yet, and she thinks it’s wonderful that Donte is playing at home again). With any luck at all, the DBs will embrace the Dawg Pound ideal and bark as loud as anyone since Minnifield and Dixon. If youngsters like Justin Gilbert and Buster Skrine can follow suit, the defensive backfield will be in good shape. Long live #TeamDBSwag.
The defensive line looks solid, but there doesn’t seem to be any one player who will consistently generate headlines or big stats. Athyba Rubin is sort of like the Browns’ Varejao: We like him because he works hard, and he’s one of the few guys who has been here for more than two years. Phil Taylor is more mountain than human, but this will be his fourth season, and there are more YouTube clips of a professional dart player of the same name than the Browns’ defensive lineman. Still, he plays as though the other team stole his lunch money, and he clubbed Roethlisberger in the head a few years ago, so we can safely assume he is against sexual assault. And speaking of criminal behavior, here’s Desmond Bryant’s mug shot:
The linebackers and rush guys could be the best bets of the bunch. Mike Pettine’s Bills had 57 sacks last year, good for second in the league. In Jabaal Sheard, Paul Kruger, and Barkevious Mingo, the hope is that the Browns have three edge rushers capable of making quarterbacks abandon the pocket and/or evacuate their bowels. Rookie inside ‘backer Chris Kirksey looked spry in the first meaningless preseason game, and his pass coverage drew especially good reviews. Karlos Dansby was an animal in Arizona last year, with 6.5 sacks, four interceptions and two defensive TDs. However, he’s 32 and has over 150 games under his belt, so there may not be much tread left on those tires.
And, of course, there are always the special teamers. You may scoff, but some of the greatest modern era Browns were specialists: Josh Cribbs, Phil Dawson, even the unblockable Chris Gardocki and unflappable (for a time) Ryan Pontbriand. There’s hope with the current bunch too. Travis Benjamin is an over-caffeinated roadrunner on kick returns. Billy Cundiff was pretty good last year, and more importantly, he helped screw up the Ravens’ chances in 2012. And Spencer Lanning is the punter, because a “Spencer Lanning” couldn’t possibly play any other position.
Again, this is an important decision. Seasons are defined by who your guys are. If you chose Charlie Frye in 2006 like I did, it was a long year. If you chose Lee Suggs in 2004 like I did, it was a long year. If you chose Brodney Pool in 2008 like I did – Look, the odds aren’t great. But football fandom is weird, and you’ve gotta do it. Do your best, cross your fingers, and enjoy the ride.