Derry: Grantham Building a Better Defense

Frank looks at the Browns defensive coordinator's plan of attack, and likes what he sees...

Todd Grantham stepped into what some might have viewed as an incredibly difficult situation when he signed on as the Browns' defensive coordinator last year.
Grantham, who had previously been with the Houston Texans, was coming into a system that had an absence of talent. He knew very little about the players he was inheriting and most of those who were on board, had very little knowledge of the 3-4, which new head coach Romeo Crennel wanted to have his defense play as much as possible.
Somewhat amazingly, the defense was very solid a year ago, finishing first in the AFC in red zone defense and fourth in the NFL in pass defense.
Of course, there were some problems, such as run defense, which led to the team finishing 16th overall in team defense, allowing nearly 317 yards per game.
Things should indeed change this year, thanks in part to the arrival of veterans such Willie McGinest and Ted Washington. Those two guys alone should help tremendously.
"Ted obviously knows the system and he's an experienced guy," said Grantham in reference to the fact Washington previously played for Crennel in New England.
"He has the size and ability to play inside and stop the run. He's a good worker which is very good for the young guys who we have on the team. They can watch him work and see a veteran who has won a Super Bowl and has been playing for a while. He gives us leadership in the locker room and ability to play the run in the inside.
"Willie has really helped the outside linebackers. They can watch him work and see what it's like to be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 system. Willie is very familiar with what we are doing (having also played for Crennel with the Patriots). The young guys can see how he works in practice and in meetings. If they follow that approach, they will be OK."
But the biggest factor in the possible improvement might very well be the fact the returning players all have a year of experience in the 3-4.
"Anytime you go through something for the second time, you are more comfortable," Grantham said. "You are going to anticipate things coming. I was comfortable last year, but it's been smooth this year, too."
Grantham knows the team's No. 1 need. "I think we need to improve our ability to step the run," he said.
The acquisition of nose tackle Washington, who should form a huge roadblock up the middle, is expected to be a key factor in any improvement against the run.
Grantham also says, "We need to improve out pass rush."
That's where McGinest and 2006 No. 1 draft pick Kamerion Wimbley are expected to be factors.
"Outside linebackers are play-makers," Grantham said. "To be efficient in this defense, you have to have play-makers.
"Generally speaking, your play-makers are going to be outside linebackers because those are the guys who are going to rush on third down. Those (type guys) are very hard to find. Anytime you can get guys that make plays and help you win games, you are doing well."
One of last year's starters at outside linebacker, Chaun Thompson, has moved inside this year to play alongside veteran Andra Davis. Early indications are that the former second-round draft pick has finally found his spot.
You have to marvel at the speed he brings and the fact he can chase down ball carriers on both sides of the field.
"He's shown the ability to be physical in there and he's run well," Grantham said.
The Browns also have to be excited about the return of Gary Baxter to the cornerback spots. Baxter missed much of last season after suffering a pectoral injury in an Oct. 23 game against Detroit.
Baxter, along with Brian Russell, are key veterans who should definitely help young players like Sean Jones, Brodney Pool and Leigh Bodden as they move into prominent spots in the defensive backfield.
Even in training camp, both Baxter and Russell are doing things that have to inspire the younger players such as making hard hits on their own teammates. The recipients might not appreciate getting banged, but the youngsters definitely are taking notice.
Grantham is definitely enjoying the competition that is taking place in training camp this year. "I like competition," he said. "I think competition makes everyone better.
"When you have guys competing for jobs, they are going to go out there everyday and improve. I think competing is good for everybody, especially young guys.
"You have to learn a position before you help us win a game. Once you learn how to win that position, you can help us win games."
Make no mistake, players who win starting positions in 2006, will do so because they have ability, not just because of their draft status.
That fact alone should help make the Cleveland Browns a much better team in 2006.

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