The Cleveland Browns are still missing a key building block for Romeo Crennel's 3-4 defensive scheme.
While GM Phil Savage has rebuilt the team's linebacking corps, the Browns defensive line remains thin on young talent. Specifically, the centerpiece of the 3-4 - a blocker-occupying nose tackle - is a position without a clear future. The Browns have gotten by in the last two years with journeyman Jason Fisk and mammoth but aging Ted Washington. Backups Ethan Kelley and J'Vonne Parker are serviceable, but aren't the caliber of player needed in the tough, run-friendly AFC North.
In the 2006 draft, GM Phil Savage bypassed potential NT Haloti Ngata and opted instead to trade down one spot and take rookie LB Kamerion Wimbley. With the sixth round pick obtained from the Ravens for allowing them to take Ngata, the Browns took bright young Stanford grad Babatunde Oshinowo.
While the young linebacker seems to have been an inspired selection, Oshinowo didn't make an immediate impact on the Browns defensive fortunes and ended 2006 still considered to be a "project".
All of which leaves the Browns still trying to create a future for themselves at the nose tackle position.
Like the team's weak history in selecting offensive linemen, the situation on the defensive line may change in 2007. The OBR can report this evening that the Browns have already been associated with two players it is considering as potential picks on the defensive line. Neither are first round selections.
The higher rated of the two, Demarcus "Tank" Tyler, told Scout.com today that Cleveland is a team that is looking at him for nose tackle. The position suits Tyler just fine, and he told us that he "likes playing nose and taking on the center".
Tyler today measured 6'2" and 306 pounds (only a hundred or so less than Ted Washington). Like Oshinowo, he would likely wind up having to get bigger to play the nose in the NFL. Unlike the straight-arrow drafted last year, however, Tyler has had some disciplinary problems and told us that it taught him to "watch who I hang around with and what I stick my nose in." Tyler also says he's been focusing on his quickness, but is still recovering from a hamstring problem.
Tyler is seen as being a third-round pick who has a chance to sneak up into the late second round with good interviews and workouts.
There are several other defensive linemen beyond Tyler who could be tapped to fill the nose tackle role for the Browns. One is Michigan's 324-pound Alan Branch, a player whose uncertain prospects can inspire sharp debate between fans and long-time scouts alike. As risky and talented as he might be, Branch looks like a Top Fifteen pick, who would only fit the Browns draft slot in a trade-down scenario.
Utah's Paul Soliai hasn't been linked to the Browns yet, but might be exactly the type of player to plug in behind a crafty veteran like Washington. The 6'4",344-pound Samoan has only played defensive line for two years, having switched from the offensive line when he transferred from Junior College in 2004. Soliai is considered an early second-day choice and has the bulk to occupy multiple blockers - a necessity for the 3-4 scheme to succeed and keep linebackers freed up to make plays.
Another name to remember is 328-pound tackle Quintin Echols from Kansas State. While considered less-than-ideal due to his 6'0", Echols has good quickness and leverage, making him a tough assignment for offensive linemen to handle. Echols is a low-round pick.
Another potential defensive lineman, but one too small to take the nose tackle spot, is Ohio State's David Patterson. A defensive tackle for the Buckeyes, Patterson is one of the names Phil Savage dropped earlier this week as one of the Buckeye players who would be brought to Berea to spend time with the team.
While he played inside for Ohio State, the 6'2", 285-pound Patterson would be a potential defensive end for the Browns as the team looks to create bench strength behind aging veteran Orpheus Roye and whoever they pick up to replace free agent Alvin McKinley.
As a side note, the Browns have also shown interest in DE Daniel Bazuin of Central Michigan. The Browns would be looking a him strictly as an outside linebacker, however, and Bazuin has already dropped weight to transition to the role in the NFL.