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Jumbling Up the Depth Chart: Defense

I had hoped to get this going on Tuesday, but a really big tree branch, a rainstorm, and the local utility company thought otherwise on Monday night. It's a conspiracy! After recovering from 12 hours of darkness and Internet-withdrawl symptoms (<I>dorkogeekaphrenia</I>), I've managed to finish up my excuses for how we organized the defensive side of our highly-speculative <A HREF="">depth chart</A>.

We made a number of changes to our depth chart on 6/14/03, following the Browns mini-camp and quarterback school. At present, there is no official depth chart, and our judgments on where players would fit are highly subjective and based on our own observations.

Today, we will look at the defensive side of the depth chart.

Left Defensive End: Courtney Brown appears to be coming back from injury and this is his spot, although the Browns will continue to move him around during games to try to find the best situations to accentuate his strengths. We're listing Ekuban second here, and Felipe Claybrooks coming off a nice NFL Europe showing. Cedric Scott is fourth on our list. Uyi Osunde, when he's able to play, could jumble up the listing, as he's a well-regarded rookie who has not yet hit the practice field.

Left Defensive Tackle: Warren is the starter, and after that it starts getting interesting, with the Browns inclined to play various games with the defensive line rotation. We've got Michael Myers and Alvin McKinley listed as the second defensive tackles on the right and left, and we've put Amon Gordon up to third, simply because we got some good vibes about his play when we were allowed to see practice. John Nix, recently at NFL Europe, rounds out the listing.

Right Defensive Tackle: Orpheus Roye is considered by many to have been the team's most consistently effective player over the past two years, and is the starter here. We've got Myers listed behind him, and Antonio Garay as the third tackle. It's interesting to note that the Browns didn't acquire and keep any undrafted free agents at this position, so we have to assume that the team is pretty happy with the competition they can generate from the players they have.

Right Defensive End: There's no indication that Kenard Lang is going to lose his starting job, but an interesting sub-plot in training camp will be to see how things play out with Mark Word, Corey Jackson, and Ebenezer Ekuban. All three are quick pass rushers looking for opportunities to get into the rotation. Word will be pushed by both after a decrease in production in 2003. Undrafted free agent Terrence Chapman is an intriguing story, but faces an uphill climb against a deep roster at DE.

Middle Linebacker: Andra Davis emerged as the starter one game into last year's exhibition season, and his performance in 2003 is going to keep him there. Barry Gardner is an experienced veteran back-up with some NFL success in his past. Mason Unck piled up tackles in NFL Europe, but the special teams demon still has some questions surrounding his ability to play the run. David Moretti is getting his second look from the coaching staff.

Strongside Linebacker: In Campo's defensive scheme, the strong side backer is not over the tight end, so Chaun Thompson, the SSLB-elect, will be getting an opportunity to justify his second-round selection in 2003 by going after the quarterback. Behind Thompson is capable vet Brant Boyer, although it would not be stunning to see a young linebacker be given a chance to challenge for a starting job if Thompson should go down with an injury. 2003 undrafted free agent Sherrod Coates is set behind Thompson and Boyer.

Weakside Linebacker: One of the most interesting competitions in training camp will come at this position. Third-year players Ben Taylor and Kevin Bentley have been thrown into the mix with new free agent signee Warrick Holdman. How this will play out is anyone's guess, and putting all three players - all of whom have started in the past - on the weakside gives Davis to have the type of camp competition he craves. Different observers all list these players in different orders, and we've seen reasonable arguments for all three. We've put Holdman first because he has started throughout his career, and Ben Taylor second based on his tackle numbers in 2003. Intriguing rookie free agent Josh Buhl rounds out the list.

Cornerback: Daylon McCutcheon is the starter at one cornerback spot and Anthony Henry comes in as the starter at the other. Another sub-plot in training camp will be to see if the coaching staff feels that either Roosevelt Williams or Michael Lehan has progressed to the point where they are able to compete for starting role. Michael Grant and Leigh Bodden have both played safety and will need to be seen as versatile to make the roster.

Strong Safety: One of the trickiest positions on the team to call on the depth chart. Robert Griffith is the ostensible starter, but poor run defense in 2003 has many fans looking eagerly at alternatives. The team has been working Chris Crocker at strong safety, which doesn't mean that much since it's easier to move to free safety from strong safety than the other way around. Two free agent pick-ups, David Young and David Gibson, will do battle here for a spot on the depth chart, and both are capable competitors that need to impress in August. Rounding out the list is Kentrell Curry, a highly-regarded rookie free agent also working out at strong safety. Expect a very interesting competition in camp and, if you plan to attend, keep an eye on how quickly the strong safety is reacting in running drills. Smallish linebacker Josh Buhl might make a move to this position, but hasn't been asked to shift as of June.

Free Safety: Earl Little is the starter, and feels like an underappreciated stand-out at the position. The free safety needs to ballhawk, and Little does it with abandon as the team's leader in interceptions the last two years. The Browns have recently confirmed their view of the free safety's role by putting interception incentives into Little's contract - a great way to get a player focused on picking off throws as a priority. Sean Jones would have been a possible threat to Little's starting job since the team felt he has the speed to play free safety, but his injury wipes out the competition there. Chris Crocker might be able to move to this role, although it looks like the nickel back is in his immediate future. Ricky Sharpe did alright in NFL Europe, but will need to show significant improvement over 2003, when he was a roster cut.


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