Surprises in the Secondary

Lewis Sanders, shown here going about the important and much-needed task of hitting Plaxico Burress as hard as possible, is just part of an enigmatic Cleveland Browns secondary. Like sophomore-slumper Anthony Henry and surprise draft pick Chris Crocker, Browns fans still don't know exactly what to expect out of Sanders. Lane Adkins talks to team sources about their thinking, including a possible position change for one of the players...

One game is in the books... and the Browns may have pulled off the greatest surprise this side of Keyser Soze.

The defense played very solid football against the explosive Indianapolis Colts. Maybe Butch Davis does know what he is talking about, when he discussed his high expectations for this defense.

A lot of the media has pointed not only at the young linebacking corps, but also at the defensive secondary. Struggling throughout the preseason, the defensive backs of the Browns were unable to catch anything short of a cold.

Okay, so we may have dramatized the point a bit, but you get the message.

Where in the world was Corey Fuller when the Browns supposedly were going to need him? In Baltimore, suffering a strained quadriceps muscle that may limit him this week in practice.

When Fuller was released prior to the free agent player signing period in March, the Browns positioned themselves to rely on second-year cornerback Anthony Henry and third-year CB Lewis Sanders. There were many unanswered questions regarding the Browns defensive backfield, but the time had come for these players to step-up and show that they possessed starting-caliber talent.

Both Henry and Sanders have had their ups and downs in their brief careers. Henry went from having 10 interceptions in his rookie 2001 season to struggling mightily in his second-season. Sanders has suffered through numerous injury problems since joining the team as a fourth-round draft selection out of Maryland.

"There were some things that happened with Anthony (Henry) last season that we expected and should be expected from a young player. In his rookie season, he was primarily the third corner, playing in the nickel and dime packages. Last season, he was thrust into the role of locking down on some of the best receivers in the game," a team source told, "He will be better with that experience and that began to show - especially late in the (2003) preseason."

Lewis Sanders is a case study of a player that needs experience and health to succeed. Believed to have good coverage skills, Sanders has battled numerous injuries since joining the Browns as a fourth-round draft choice in the 2000 draft.

"Sanders has shown some signs of being the type of defensive back that can not only play, but contribute in this league. Right now, he is in the mix at the cornerback spot for us, but we have also toyed with the notion of using him at safety," the team source said. "Much like Henry, we are at a point where we need these guys to step-up and make plays and we expect that they will."

Not taking any chances and knowing that the roster was void of quality depth at the cornerback position, Davis and the Browns Player Personnel VP Garcia addressed the team's pressing need in the secondary by selecting Chris Crocker from Marshall and Michael Lehan from Minnesota in the 2003 NFL draft.

Thus far, the moves appear to be paying off for the team. The intelligent and aggressive Crocker has already established himself as the starting nickel back. Lehan, who possesses shutdown corner potential according to some close to the team, is pushing Henry at corner.

Along with Crocker and Lehan, another intriguing player in the defensive backfield is rookie Leigh Bodden. The book on Bodden is simple: he has shown good coverage skills that will only improve with experience, and he also has good size and speed and will contribute  immediately on special teams.

Sure, only one game has been played, but the youth in the Browns defensive backfield could be a cornerstone of the defense for many seasons to come.

The OBR Top Stories