The defensive coaching staff of the Cleveland Browns has been working overtime in the days following the team's exciting 33-30 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. As the Browns offense continues to execute and exceed early expectations, it’s the highly-touted defense that is getting the immediate focus of head coach Mike Pettine and, of course, defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil.
Unable to generate a pass rush in recent weeks, the Browns have spent endless hours over the past two weeks evaluating the play of the defense, as well as how the defense has been called. The effort of the Browns staff to build versatility into their defensive unit only hampered overall production and consistency.
The experiment of OLB Paul Kruger playing the SAM linebacker on a consistent basis appears to be on the way out. Kruger will see the majority of his reps as a pass rusher when the Denver Broncos visit First Energy Stadium on Sunday. Kruger was an effective best pass rushing presence a season ago, easily the best on the Browns. Utilizing Kruger in the SAM role was a decision made to open opportunities in the numerous scheme-packages the Browns run.
With Kruger seeing less time as the SAM linebacker and the injury to Scott Solomon, 2013 first round draft choice Barkeviovs Mingo and 2015 second round draft selection Nate Orchard figure to see a considerable gain in reps on game-day. A decision on who will start or gain the majority of the reps at the position hadn’t been disclosed by our sources at this time, although Mingo has seen an increase in practice reps.
While the Browns are regarded as a 3-4 defense, the reality is that the Browns defense is far from a standard base 3-4. The Browns employ numerous scheme looks which depends on four down-linemen and within this scheme we may begin to see a different look on game-day.
Throughout film evaluation, the alarming ineffectiveness of the defensive line to generate push has concerned the staff. As the run defense has been susceptible to giving up big plays, the Browns staff has looked at the combination of scheme, player(s) and timing. An example provided to theOBR is: “We continue to see guys getting into position to make plays, but not make them. We aren’t a big gap scheme defense, but the issue is sometimes simple football - you have to win one-on-one battles and players have to make plays.”
Although practice sessions are not open for the media to observe, theOBR has learned rookie Xavier Cooper could see increased playing time in the very near future, while veteran defensive linemen Randy Starks and John Hughes may see their game-day responsibilities altered - such as possibly less of Hughes as a “5”.