Owl: Getting Technical

The Browns are quickly making a series of technical changes to their run defense after watching the Giants run through their first-team unit. He's what the Browns - especially linebacker Ben Taylor - are worried about as they get ready for the Lions. Analysis for football lunatics you won't find anywhere else!!

The more Romeo Crennel says, the more you have to like him and the more you hope he is successful. He is honest to a fault.

Take for example his assessment of the run defense after the Browns beat the Giants in the preseason opener. He was happy with the 17-14 final, but more of his concentration has been on how the Browns could give up 154 yards rushing when the Giants' top runner, Tiki Barber, hardly played.

Run defense is a problem the Browns must correct quickly. In the first three weeks of 2005 they face the Bengals' Rudi Johnson, the Packers' Ahman Green and the Colts' Edgerrin James. Crennel dismissed the suggestion a lack of tackling practice in training camp was a cause for the Giants' success, although it is interesting to note the first time this week they were in full pads, on Tuesday morning, the contract was crisper and harder that at any point this summer.

"I don't think (not tackling in practice) had anything to do with it," Crennel said. "We weren't missing tackles. We got handled at the line of scrimmage."

Crennel is confident his players can learn the intricacies of the 3-4 defense he wants them to play. The bigger question is whether they have the ability to play it. Ben Taylor, an inside starter with Andra Davis, was angry with himself for missing an open field tackle against the Giants.

"We need definite improvement," he said. "It was the first time for a lot of us playing a 3-4 in a game. It was a definite learning experience for me. I'll speak for myself.

"I need to get better knowing the angles and things like that. It wasn't like we were missing tackles. In this defense, you kind of sit and wait and play off your defensive linemen. I was too fast over the top and that opened up the cutback lanes. It's a good thing we have four preseason games. That's the best thing we have going for us."

The first Browns coach of the new era, Chris Palmer, talked about 'gap integrity.' It is coach-speak for staying in position and not vacating it to make a play. The danger is the guy with the ball can cut back to the vacated spot and turn a short gain into a long one.

Crennel talks about 'fits' the same way. In the 3-4, the defensive lineman is responsible for two gaps. Nose tackle Jason Fisk, for example, is responsible for the space on each side of the center. Each linebacker has to know what the lineman in front of him is doing.

We can only hope that fixing all this technical stuff does the trick, but for now there are concerns. Remember, the line was the strength of the team before - supposedly it was anyway - and now it's supposed to be the linebackers. The obvious difference is the Browns have no first-round draft choices playing linebacker.

The Patriots won without superstar linebackers and now Crennel is trying to do the same thing with the Browns. It is interesting to see Crennel has elevated Orlando Ruff to the second team. Ruff could be a starter before long. He is bigger and stronger than Taylor.

During practice Tuesday morning Reuben Droughns knocked down Taylor as he blasted through the front seven. It isn't a good sign, unless you're focusing on the depth at running back.

"We can fit in practice and be where we are supposed to be," Crennel said. "Can we fit and be where are supposed to be and then from the physical standpoint still get it done in a game? That's where the real test comes.

"If you can't do it in practice then you know you can't do it in the game. If you can do it in practice the way we have it structured then you have a chance to do it in the game. If we give up 149 yards (in Detroit) it's better but it's not good enough."

You're going to be reading a lot this season about the need for patience. Much of it will be directed toward run defense.


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