BEREA — It has only been two games, but it looks like Cleveland Browns general manager Tom Heckert may have once again hit on his top two draft picks.
In 2010, Heckert drafted Joe Haden and T.J. Ward in with his first two picks and in 2011, Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard were added to the defensive mix. The pair of defensive backs and pair of defensive linemen could form the core of the Browns defense for many years.
Taylor and Sheard have been in the starting lineup since day one and have made plays in the first two games.
"That's what they brought us in here to do," Sheard said. "The other guys we have on the D-line make it much easier to play."
"We're getting better each week," he said. "The guys all get along really well. I see a bright future."
Pat Shurmur sees the progress of the two rookies.
"When you watch them on tape, again, I think they're doing a nice job," Shurmur said. "For me, watching them I'm looking for improvement and we talked about younger guys making bigger jumps and I think that's what you're seeing with them."
In last week's win against the Colts, Taylor stopped Delone Carter in his tracks on third-and-one and forced the Colts to kick a field goal. Taylor is second on the team with 11 tackles.
Sheard sacked Kerry Collins in the fourth quarter, forced a fumble and recovered it.
"They're making huge plays," D'Qwell Jackson said. "It's great for us on the backend knowing we've got a front four that can play some ball."
The Browns are currently sixth in the NFL in defense in yards allowed and, second against the pass.
"For Jabaal and Phil, it was their first win in the league and they were excited," defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. "They understood after the first game that there's a big difference from the preseason to the regular season.
"They're both hard working guys and have been improving."
Taylor knows the role of the defensive line in the trenches.
"Without the D-line there's no defense," Taylor said. "Just like the offense without the O-line. It starts up front offensively and defensively."
Other NFL coaches have noticed Taylor and Sheard.
"Phil has been really physical," Dolphins' coach Tony Sparano said Wednesday in a conference call with the media. "He's done an outstanding job. He's a physical, tough player that really runs well for a big guy.
"As far as Jabaal, he's a guy I'm very impressed with," Sparano said. "Great explosiveness and can really turn the corner."
Sheard and Jayme Mitchell switched sides at defensive end against the Colts and it worked out well.
"Certain guys just tend to be better on doing certain things," Shurmur said. "That's part of the evaluation process as you get to know guys."
Jauron said the move isn't a big deal.
"Jabaal played on that side in college and he's just more comfortable there."
Taylor said he Sheard, Mitchell and Ahtyba Rubin all have good chemistry.
"The type of players we are, we get along with each other," Taylor said. "We just go out there and play hard every day. We love each other and we just go out and play for each other. "
With Mitchell being the elder statesman on the defensive line at 27 years old and Rubin just 25, the Browns future of the defensive line looks bright.
Daboll Returns: Dolphins' offensive coordinator Brian Daboll returns to Cleveland to face the Browns after being in the same position for the Browns the previous two years.
Shurmur was asked if Daboll's familiarity with the Browns' personnel will give him an advantage.
"I think our defense and the personnel have changed somewhat since he was here," Shurmur said.
Quarterback Colt McCoy said in his book ‘Growing Up Colt' that the coaching staff treated him like a leper when he was here until he became the starter after injuries to Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace.
"I have nothing but respect for coach Daboll," he said. "We're here now, we're in a new system so all my time, energy and focus has been on what we're doing and what Miami's defense does. I really haven't thought about it that much."
McCoy said he doesn't have extra incentive for this week's game.
"No, coach Daboll from all I've heard has been doing a great job in Miami," McCoy said. "If you ask the guys in this locker room, we have respect for him. We played hard for him and we're in a new situation now and we're playing hard for our coaches here. My focus each day and every time I step on the field is, ‘What do we have to do to move the ball on Miami's defense.' "
Injury Update: Right tackle Tony Pashos practiced Wednesday and Thursday and had no setbacks. He is listed as questionable for Sunday's game with an ankle injury.
"I'm feeling good," Pashos said after Wednesday's practice. "Was able to get out there, move around, play some football for a little bit."
"He had a good day (Wednesday) ad we're seeing if he can build on that," Shurmur said. "We'll make that decision later in the week if he's a go."
Wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi was listed as questionable with a hamstring injury, but Shurmur said he practiced Wednesday.
"Mo actually practiced and is doing well," Shurmur said. "I'm pleased he's back out there. I'm pleased with what he has brought to the offense. He's a good route runner."
Both Pashos and Massaquoi were in full pads for Thursday's practice.
Linebacker Titus Brown (ankle) and defensive back Eric Hagg (knee) are listed as doubtful. Wide receiver Carlton Mitchell (finger) and defensive lineman Scott Paxson (shoulder) are probable after practicing fully.
Adams, Young to Split Time: Safety Usama Young missed the preseason with a hamstring injury and safety Mike Adams established himself as the starter at free safety. Young had a big interception against the Colts and is playing more and more.
"We like both of them Usama and Mike," Jauron said. "We'll give them both time back there."
Shurmur said he likes the depth at safety.
"If your active players are playing well, you develop more depth," he said. "If Usama plays, and in terms of improving in real live games at full speed, that's where you see what you have."
Robo vs. Mitchell: Brian Robiskie has been active for the first two games and is without a catch. On the other hand, Mitchell has been inactive for the first two weeks.
Shurmur was asked what Mitchell needs to do to be active on game day.
"He needs to be out there and practice in a way that says you're up," Shurmur said. "He's getting himself back into playing shape after being injured.
"(Robiskie and Mitchell) are similar in size," he said. "Carlton is much faster some, but there are some things Carlton needs to learn in terms of running routes. I am told he is good on special teams."
Shurmur re-iterated he is not down on Robiskie.
"At times, your receiver production comes in bunches," he said. "Brian is doing everything we ask him to do. I am not at all concerned with him."
Coming On: It appears that rookie wide receiver Greg Little seems to be getting more and more assimilated into the passing game.
"He's coming along," Shurmur said. "He's improving and I can see he's a guy that we want to throw the ball to."
McCoy is getting more chemistry with Little. He hooked up with him four times against the Colts for 38 yards.
"Greg is starting to get the hang of it," McCoy said. "We're trying to get him the ball a little bit more. He's a playmaker.
"You see what he does with the ball in his hands and he wants the ball," he said. "We're excited about how far Greg has come and we know he can get a lot better. If you think about it, Greg has not played for two years, so he's slowly getting back into the swing of things and I think he's doing a really great job."