The Browns tried but failed last year in the draft to find a future replacement for Ted Washington, so this time they found in free agency the player they hope will be the nose tackle in 2008 and beyond.
Shaun Smith, who weighs 325 pounds, is one of the least-known players signed by the Browns since free agency began March 2, but he could turn out to be every bit as important as Eric Steinbach or Jamal Lewis.
A restricted free agent from the Bengals when the Browns signed him to a four-year, $8 million contract last month, Smith did not overwhelm opponents during his first three years in the league, so the Browns are banking on his potential. He played in 34 of a possible 48 games and made just seven starts in three years. He has 75 career tackles.
"Before the (free agency) process happened, my agent and I sat down at the Super Bowl," Smith said. "We went through all of the depth charts and looked at teams who needed defensive tackles. Cleveland was number one on my list to come to. When free agency started, I got the call to come in and I was very excited."
Run defense has been an annual problem for the Browns. They finished 29th in the league in 2006, allowing an averaging of 142.2 yards a game. Opponents rushed for 14 touchdowns.
Adding Washington to the team last year was supposed to make the run defense better, but in fact the Browns yielded an average of 4.5 yards rushing a game more last season than they did in 2005. They allowed 11 rushing touchdowns in 2005 -- three fewer than last year.
The decline in run defense is attributable to Orpheus Roye being injured on and off all season more than Washington failing, but Washington will be 39 on April 13. He started every game last season and finished with 61 tackles, sixth on the team and most among Browns defensive linemen.
Smith signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted rookie in 2003. He spent the season on the practice squad and was eventually waived by Dallas in the 2004 training camp. The Cardinals picked him up and waived him before camp ended.
The Saints signed Smith after he was dumped by Arizona. He was waived again after playing in five games for New Orleans in 2004. The Bengals signed him. He played in three games for the Bengals in 2004 with one start. He started five games in 2005 and made 38 tackles. He made 14 tackles in 13 games last year.
--The Browns' preseason schedule includes a game in INVESCO Field at Mile High in Denver the third weekend in August. It will be their first preseason game in Denver since 1983.
--Depth was a problem at safety until the Browns signed Mike Adams to a two-year contract. In three seasons with the 49ers he totaled 139 tackles in 38 games. Last season he played in 16 games with eight starts and made 67 tackles. The 49ers did not tender Adams an offer. The Browns were short a safety because Brian Russell left in free agency to sign with Seattle. Brodney Pool will replace Russell as the free safety. Sean Jones is the strong safety.
--The 2006 season was one DE Orpheus Roye would like to forget. He played in only nine games, missing one with a shoulder injury, one with a hamstring injury and five with a knee injury that eventually landed him on injured reserve. The good news is none of the injuries required surgery to repair. He said he is confident he can return to his 2005 form when he made 95 tackles. He made only 38 last season.
--One thing the Browns hope to improve in 2007 is their pass offense. They did not have one 300-yard passing game in 2006. Charlie Frye got the closest while passing for 298 yards in a 15-14 loss to the Ravens.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He has a definite competitive steak in him and he plays the game until the whistle blows. He plays hard and plays physical." -- Browns offensive line coach Steve Marshall on guard Eric Steinbach