Post-Season Analysis: Defense

Today, our friends at TheInsiders bring their perspective to the Browns defense, with a unit-by-unit analysis of the squad's progress. Also, some notes on the team's coaching changes and the special teams...

Coaching Notes: The Browns rounded out their coaching staff by bringing in two more coaches whose experience is mainly in college football. The team hired Kennedy Pola to be running backs coach and Fred Graves to be receivers coach. Graves was the wide receivers coach for the Buffalo Bills the last three years, and spent the previous 26 as a college assistant -- including 19 at Utah. Pola spent the last four seasons at the University of Southern California as running backs and special teams coach.

Previously, the Browns lost linebacker coach Clancy Pendergast to Arizona. Pendergast became the Cardinals defensive coordinator. To replace him, Davis hired George Edwards, who was defensive coordinator in Washington last season. Edwards' ties to Davis go through Dave Campo. Edwards worked for and with Campo in Dallas from 1998-2001.


DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- DE Kenard Lang, DE Mark Word. DT Gerard Warren, DT Orpheus Roye. Backups -- DE Tyrone Rogers, DE Felipe Claybrooks. DT Alvin McKinley, DT Michael Myers. Returning from injury: DE Courtney Brown, DT Antonio Garay.

An ongoing struggle with the Browns is Courtney Brown, who cannot seem to finish a season healthy. After coming back from microfracture surgery on his knee, Brown saw his season end early with a ruptured biceps tendon. The Browns feel good about his comeback -- he was lifting weights by the end of the year -- but they may have to re-do his contract, which calls for him to make $6 million. Warren's ongoing immaturity, meanwhile, continues to be a problem. Warren slept through the start of a team meeting in December; players said he was late other times as well. Warren's salary calls for him to make $5.8 million, which is too much given the struggles he causes. Lang had a solid 2003, and Roye continues to be the ultimate team professional. His play and his approach have earned him the respect of all his teammates.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Ben Taylor, OLB Kevin Bentley, MLB Andra Davis. Backups -- Brant Boyer, Chaun Thompson, Barry Gardner.

The development of Davis -- the team's Player of the Year -- in the middle was the most pleasant surprise of 2003. Davis showed ability to tackle, cover and run, prime requirements in the Butch Davis/Dave Campo defense. Taylor played well when healthy and Bentley had struggles, but the linebacking crew had its best games when Boyer, a veteran leader, was on the field. Boyer is an unrestricted free agent, and re-signing him is an offseason priority.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Anthony Henry, CB Daylon McCutcheon, FS Earl Little, SS Robert Griffith. Backups -- CB Lewis Sanders, CB Roosevelt Williams, CB Leigh Bodden, CB Michael Lehan. S Michael Jameson, S Chris Crocker.

The Browns must decide whether McCutcheon has earned a $1.3 million roster bonus due the first week in March. His teammates would say yes, and Butch Davis has said he agrees. But the Browns didn't pay many roster bonuses one year ago, so McCutcheon will wait and see. Henry had a pretty good year as the starter and Little touted himself for the Pro Bowl. But the Browns seem interested in upgrading at safety and bringing in bigger players who are better tacklers. That could mean Little and Griffith both could see someone brought in to challenge for their jobs.

SPECIAL TEAMS: P Chris Gardocki, P Derrick Frost, PK Phil Dawson, LS Ryan Pontbriand.

Gardocki's looming free agency seems to be the reason the Browns signed Frost at the end of the season. The Browns said it was to send Frost to NFL Europe, but the players didn't think it was a great idea since Gardocki has been a member of the team since 1999. Clearly his teammates want Gardocki back. Whether he returns is another important decision the front office must make this offseason.

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