Safeties Spark Emerging Defense

Browns' fourth-ranked defense playing well thanks, in part, to their safety trio.

BEREA, Ohio — Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron is getting the credit for the Browns' fourth-ranked defense in the NFL. Jauron said on Thursday that the credit should to go to the players.

"They're really a good group of guys and they're serious about getting better," Jauron said. "They have toughness about them and they just have to continue to get better."

Jauron said it wasn't a definite goal to have the Browns ranked near the top when he came to Cleveland. He did say that to be competitive in the AFC North, the defense has to play well. Currently, the four AFC North teams are ranked one through four.

"I think it's pretty clear that this division is very good," Jauron said. "I don't know if I thought (about the ranking), but knew we have to have a very good football team overall, in order to compete in this division."

Browns head coach Pat Shurmur is confident the defense can continue to keep the Browns in games.

"I feel like there's no reason that we can't go into every game and expect to have a very fine defensive performance," he said. "I think it's rare in this league that you hold a team to three points.

"I think our guys feel there is some confidence there that they're playing well as a defense so you like to think that they'll build on that confidence and detail their work during the week. They've practiced extremely well each week and I'm anticipating that it will be the same."

Jauron was happy the Browns held the Seahawks without a touchdown in last Sunday's 6-3 victory.

"You have to play well," he said. "You have to play hard and be a little lucky. Some things went our way and it has to go that way sometimes."

Jauron knows there is a long way to go in the 2011 season.

"It gets harder and harder as the season goes along," he said. "It always does."

Sunday's game against the 5-1 San Francisco 49ers arguably will be the defense's biggest test.

"This is a very talented football team at just about every position," Jauron said.

The Browns' safety trio of T.J. Ward, Mike Adams and Usama Young has played well this season, but they will be tested against the 49ers by tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker.

"(Ward) needs to play the run well and play the pass well and you've got to do it against two very, very fine players, not to mention Delanie Walker," Shurmur said. "I think they have eight touchdowns and the tight ends have scored six of the eight touchdowns.

"They're very fine players and I've seen them up close and personal for four games now," he said. "But, it's important that you're very disciplined playing the run and then with the run comes the play action. (Ward) is one of those guys that studies, so if there are any keys or indicators there that he'll find to help him be a step closer on a pass as well a couple feet closer making a tackle, I'm sure he'll get that."

Jauron said he's still learning about the Browns' safeties.

"We're learning more and more about them and how to use them as we get into the season," he said. "They are all tough guys and I'm happy with their play overall."

Ward is second on the team in tackles with 32. He had a strip sack against the Seahawks and a key pass break up. Jauron was asked if he thought Ward played his best game against Seattle.

"I think it probably was," he said. "The turnover was a huge play in the game. Hardly any points were scored and that led to our first score."

One of the strengths of the AFC North is the play of their safeties. The Steelers Troy Polamalu and the Ravens' Ed Reed have set the bar high.

Shurmur likes Ward's progress.

"I have seen his level of play increase," he said. "You're seeing a young guy progress. He's getting more comfortable in the scheme. All that communication is helping him.

"I think his general game has been good. His coverage and support in the run has been good."

Jauron says Ward is an integral part of the defense.

"He's an aggressive guy and we have to keep finding ways to use him."

Young was slowed in training camp with a hamstring injury and lost his starting job to Adams.

"(Young's) a big athlete that can move," Jauron said. "It took him a while to get back from that injury. He's caught up and we'll keep rotating him."

Young has 16 tackles with an interception and a pass break up. Adams has 12 tackles, with two interceptions and a fumble recovery. He has broken up a pass, as well.

Notebook

Hillis a No Go: Running back Peyton Hillis arrived in Berea on Thursday with a sore hamstring after practicing Wednesday. Shurmur said Hillis would be held out of Thursday's practice.

Hillis was listed as questionable on Wednesday's injury report, but Shurmur didn't say Hillis would not be able to play Sunday.

"Hopefully, he'll play."

Shurmur said he hasn't detected any frustration in Hillis being sidelined.

"I talked to him today and he's hanging in there trying to take it day to day," Shurmur said. "I don't sense any frustration. He's hoping to play."

Injury Update: Other than Hillis not practicing Thursday, Shurmur said the rest of the injury situation was the same as Wednesday.

Offensive lineman Shawn Lauvao (knee), wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (concussion), tight end Ben Watson (concussion) and defensive back Ray Ventrone (hamstring) did not practice and are listed as doubtful.

"Mo is progressing and Watson is much like Mo," Shurmur said.

Lauvao is going to practice on Thursday.

Listed as questionable were kicker Phil Dawson (thigh), linebacker Scott Fujita (concussion), defensive back Joe Haden (knee), offensive lineman Tony Pashos (ankle) and Hillis (hamstring). Offensive lineman Artis Hicks (back) and defensive back Buster Skrine (hip) are probable.

Shurmur said that Dawson is going to kick at practice.

Fast Start: Shurmur said he is emphasizing getting the offense off to a fast start.

"We practice the plays we're going to run to start the game and talk about what we're planning to do," he said.

No TO: Shurmur was asked if the Browns had any interest in free-agent wide receiver Terrell Ownens.

"We did not go to the workout, but will keep personnel decisions to ourselves."


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