While praising left tackle L.J. Shelton last week coach Romeo Crennel indicted his defense.
"We're going to have to provide him more competition in the pass rush," Crennel said. "We haven't seen some of the world class rushers we'll see on Sundays. We might have to wait until the preseason to make a final assessment."
In other words, that pass rusher is not in a Browns uniform. Crennel and general manager Phil Savage knew before training camp started that rushing the quarterback was going to be a problem. It's why they thought long and hard about signing former Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware, and why Boulware is still on their emergency list of available players. Boulware has 67.5 sacks, but he also is rehabbing from knee and toe surgery and the Browns don't think he's worth the risk at this point.
"We're still searching," Crennel said. "We have some guys who are trying. They have enough ability, but right now we're not as effective as we need to be."
Crennel listed Kenard Lang, Chaun Thompson and rookie David McMillan as his best pass rushers. All are linebackers. But 'best' at this point is a relative term, because so far in training camp the quarterbacks have had their way.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has been installing "sub-rush" schemes. In those defenses, the linebackers work more from the outside edge for better angles to the quarterback. With about a month to go before the start of the regular season, Grantham and Crennel are teaching the fundamentals. They won't get into "exotic games," to use Crennel's term, until later on.
"We'll get a better evaluation of the protection and the rushers with at scenario going in," Crennel said.
Still, the numbers say Crennel is looking for results that just aren't there. Lang had seven sacks last season as a defensive end, making him the best of the group the Browns' head coach identified. Thompson had 2.5 sacks and McMillan, as a defensive end at Kansas, had seven sacks.
Matt Stewart, competing with Lang for a starting job, had 1.5 sacks with Atlanta last year. Sacks aren't likely to come from the defensive line, either; left end Orpheus Roye, nose tackle Jason Fisk and right end Alvin McKinley combined for five sacks last season.
Corey Jackson, a 6-6, 265-pound defensive end, is not big enough to line up head-on against a 320-pound tackle, but he is quick. Though Crennel did not list him among the pass rushers, Jackson is working against the first team offense as an edge rusher. Jackson was one of the few to survive the offseason purge when Savage and Crennel cleaned house of four defensive linemen.
"That's my specialty," Jackson said. "They look at my speed and my size and think I'm a perfect guy for pass rushing."
Jackson was the NFL Europe Defensive Player of the Year with 9.5 sacks in 2004, yet he played in only one game with the Browns last season. He was not allocated to NFL Europe in 2005. Instead he was part of the offseason program in Berea and impressed Crennel enough to be part of this training camp.