Romeo Crennel's influence as defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots from 2001-2004 has been a key to the Browns reshaping a defense that was last in the league in sacks and near the bottom of the league in run defense in 2005.
The Browns signed 365-pound nose tackle Ted Washington to a two-year contract on March 13, the third day of free agency, and then two days later signed outside linebacker Willie McGinest to a three-year contract. Both played for Crennel in New England. Washington was there in 2003 and McGinest from 1994-2005, meaning he played under Crennel twice, because Crennel was the Patriots' defensive line coach from 1994-1996.
McGinest hopes he can infuse the Browns with the same mentality the Patriots had in winning three Super Bowls in four years. Washington was part of the 2003 Super Bowl team.
"I always look at it, and I know Romeo and the staff look at it the same, it's one week at a time," McGinest said. "We just want to start winning. It doesn't start with the Super Bowl. It starts with the teams in our division we play twice a year.
"We want to make teams reckon with us. We're not going to predict Super Bowls, but we are going to make a run to be a very good team. We're going to be tough, physical and not take a back seat to anybody. That's my attitude. That's why I came here. I'm just going to continue to lead in that way."
McGinest is 34 and Washington will be 38 two weeks before the draft. They fill gaping holes. McGinest had six sacks last season, a number that would have put him first in sacks had he been with the Browns in 2005. Washington had 47 tackles. That's three less than Jason Fisk, who started 14 games for the Browns, but Crennel is convinced Washington can still play at his advanced age. He is so convinced the Browns released Fisk one day after signing Washington.
"Ted has performed in the system at a high level," Crennel said. "And so with his years in the league, I think he still has the ability to play the position and I think he'll be able to help us particularly our run defense, inside runs definitely.
"He knows technique. A lot of people think that he just uses his size, but he knows technique. He has good use of his hands in there and he can move surprisingly quickly for a big man. I think all of those things enable him to be a good nose tackle."
McGinest and Washington have played a total of 27 years in the NFL. General manager Phil Savage said the Browns could take a nose tackle or outside linebacker in the first round of the draft despite what they have done in free agency.