The Browns just finished another double-digit loss season and questions abound throughout the roster. Are the Browns heading in the right direction? Do the Browns have a core to build around?
The OBR is breaking down the Browns current roster position-by-position. In the eighth in the series, we will take a look at the secondary.
Tom Heckert knows the importance of the secondary.
In Heckert's first season as the Browns' general manager, his first two draft choices were Joe Haden and T. J. Ward. One of his first trades was to acquire Sheldon Brown.
Haden and Ward didn't have the type of seasons they did in their rookie years. Haden had six interceptions as a rookie and zero this past season, having dropped several passes in his hands. Ward had 105 tackles as a rookie and had just 38 in eight games. He sprained his foot and missed the final half of the season, but his production was not on the same pace as 2010. Ward also had one sack, three passes broken up and a forced fumble.
Haden had 65 tackles, one sack, 19 passes broken up, one forced fumble and a recovery.
Brown had 48 tackles, two interceptions, 13 passes broken up and had one forced fumble and recovery. One of the most impressive accomplishments of Brown is he has appeared in 160 straight games—every game in his NFL career.
Dimitri Patterson was one of the best pickups the Browns made and could push for a starting job next season. He finished with 26 tackles and 12 passes broken up and is probably the best nickel cornerback the Browns have had in the past 10 years.
Buster Skrine showed promise on special teams and earned playing time as the season progressed in nickel defense. Skrine finished the season with 10 tackles, one interception and two passes broken up. He had nine special team tackles.
James Dockery had five special team tackles. Dockery came out of nowhere to make the final roster as an undrafted free agent, but didn't play much during the season.
Mike Adams stated in training camp that he felt he had earned the right to be a starting safety. Adams proved to be a prophet as he held off Young for the starting free safety spot and had a solid season. Adams had 61 tackles, starting all 16 games for the first time in his career. Adams led the team with three interceptions, six passes broken up, one forced fumble and recovery.
Usama Young was signed as one of the Browns key unrestricted free agent signings. Young injured his hamstring early in the preseason and didn't make the impact expected of him. He was unable to beat out Adams, but took over for Ward when he was injured. Young finished with 66 tackles, one interception and one pass broken up. He also had five special team tackles.
Ray Ventrone played almost exclusively on special teams, but had just three special teams tackles.
Eric Hagg missed the beginning of the season after preseason knee surgery, but played in 10 games. He finished with 10 tackles, one pass broken up and had one fumble recovery as a rookie.
Bottom Line: Overall, in the pass happy NFL, the Browns could use another marquee cornerback and or safety. Despite having subpar seasons from Haden and Ward, the pair are set to be the foundation of the secondary. The question is at the corner opposite Haden and with the free safety position.
As much of an iron man that Brown has been, he turns 33 in March. He has already lost a step or two and with the speed of wide receivers, the Browns have to decide if he can continue to play at cornerback or if it is time for him to become a safety. Even if he's moved to safety, father time has a way of catching up with defensive backs.
Patterson or Skrine are potential replacements for Brown at cornerback, but the Browns could sign a free agent or draft one with one of their top three picks. LSU's Morris Claiborne is a player the Browns have been linked to in some draft circles.
The Browns have to make a decision on Adams as he's slated to become an unrestricted free agent. Adams has been a vital player, mostly as a utility player that has been able to play either cornerback or safety for the past several seasons. Young didn't have the impact the Browns expected out of him after signing him as a free agent and part of their handling of the safety position will be based on how they project him. Hagg came on and gained valuable experience in the latter part of the season.
(Next: We'll conclude our series with the specialists)