Derry on the DBs

Frank Derry looks at what Saturday's game says about the defensive backfield...

Sean Jones had waited and waited and waited some more.

He had waited 476 days for this moment. That works out to 11,424 hours of pent up frustration since he was selected in the second round of the 2004 draft by the Browns. A grand total of 685,440 seconds before he had an opportunity to step on the field for the very first time.

And then, just as he was getting an opportunity to show what he could do, he was told to wait some more.

Jones and the rest of his teammates were ordered to go to the safety of the locker room and wait while a dangerous electrical storm passed over Cleveland Browns Stadium Saturday night.

Not exactly the way he had envisioned his career beginning, but it could have been worse. A lot worse. It could have been him instead of rookie teammate Brodney Pool who was carried of the field after a violent collision on the opening kickoff.

Pro football is played by big, physically-gifted athletes. But as Jones found out last year during a non-contact drill in a mini-camp, and Pool found out on his very first play as a pro, there is always a health risk no matter how big or how strong you are.

Jones suffered a season-ending knee injury that kept him sidelined for the entire 2004 season.

Pool, who is listed as the backup to Jones at strong safety, suffered a concussion that ended his evening.

Pool's injury also resulted in Jones getting extended playing time, which was probably why he was still on the field early in the third quarter. It was a moment he will long remember as he burst through to sack New York Giants backup quarterback Jesse Palmer for an 11-yard loss.

That sack helped keep the Giants bottled up deep in their own territory and eventually set up the Browns' game-winning drive in their 17-14 pre-season victory.

It was the type of big play first-year head coach Romeo Crennel wants to see out of his strong safety this season, be it Jones or Pool, who definitely has opened a few eyes in training camp this year with his all-out hustle.

Hopefully, Pool, selected in he second round this year out of Oklahoma, will be ready to resume his battle with Jones in the not-too-distant future. The fact he was on the sideline in street clothes when play resumed following the weather break was a very good sign.

Strong safety is one position where the Browns are definitely looking for a big upgrade this year. Veteran Robert Griffith, the Browns' starting strong safety the past three seasons, was steady, but unspectacular.

It didn't take long for Crennel to realize that fact, thus Griffith was given his walking papers soon after the new head coach arrived.

But there was no guarantee Jones would be able to fill Griffith's shoes. Neither Crennel nor general manager Phil Savage were responsible for drafting Jones. And they obviously had no NFL game film upon which to form an opinion of the former Georgia Bulldog.

Thus, they used their second pick this year to bring in the highly-touted Pool, who proved equally effective against the run and the pass in helping the Sooners to the National Championship Game for two straight years.     

The battle between Jones and Pool could go down to the wire, although the severity of Pool's concussion could prove a deciding factor in just who starts to begin the year.

But if the Browns don't get a lot better rush against opposing quarterbacks than they did in the first quarter of Saturday's game against the Giants, then it won't matter who is playing in the defensive backfield.

Not even a veteran like cornerback Gary Baxter can stay with an opposing wide receiver for more than just a few seconds. Baxter was burned by former Steeler Plaxico Burress for a touchdown.

Baxter, who hasn't been impressive in camp thus far this year, is being counted upon more than expected because fellow veteran cornerback Daylon McCutcheon is still sidelined with unexplained headaches.

It's looking more and more like McCutcheon, who along with kicker Phil Dawson are the only remaining Browns from the original team in 1999, will no be ready for the start of the season.

In fact, there is growing concern that McCutcheon's health problems might be very serious to the point his entire season, not to mention his career, could be in jeopardy unless doctors soon figure out what is wrong.

On a more positive note, Jones, who finished with two tackles and one assist, was happy to have his first-ever pro game under his belt.

"It was just good to finally get out there," he said.

But Jones knows full well that the battle with Pool is far from over. In fact, it was Pool who probably created the most waves in camp the past week when he came up with one big play after another.

Also working against Jones will be the fact the Giants ran for 154 yards on 25 carries, often times running deep into the Browns' backfield.

Normally, it is the strong safety's job to prevent long runs, but until the coaches break down the game film, it is impossible to determine the guilty party.

It is safe to say, however, that the strong safety position is similar to the rest of the unit both offensively and defensively … a work in progress. Sure, the Browns won the game … which was one of Crennel's goals as he works to build a winning atmosphere.

But when the majority of the players on the field for both squads were first-teamers, the Giants pretty much controlled the action on both sides of the ball.

The fact it took the Giants more than 90 minutes to score their first touchdown was the result of Mother Nature, who has the power to shut down any team at any time. Hopefully, one day soon the Browns' defense will be able to do likewise.     

That day has not yet come.


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