The latest wave of off-season training activities (OTA) are concluding and a mini-camp in Cleveland is on the horizon.
After weeks of players running around in shorts and helmets, we get to see a little of the progress made during these sessions. While not as productive as getting in pads and conducting some hard-core hitting, man-on-man practice, the OTA's serve a purpose. Besides getting the players on the field (it is voluntary, mind you), OTAs allow the coaching staff to observe, train, and get the players on the same page. This is especially important when the system is changed with new coaches on-board.
Heading into the mini-camp and training camp portion of the summer training regimen, the Browns defense should be the strength of the team. Going into a third season in the same system, the Browns defense looks to bounce back after it struggled with injuries in the defensive backfield and inconsistency along the defensive line in 2006.
One of the largest areas of concern heading into training camp will be the state of the defensive line. Missed assignments, injuries, miscast players, and a lack of experience throttled this facet of the defense last season. During the off-season, an emphasis on improving the quality of the line with experience and size was on the General Manager Phil Savage's agenda.
Veteran defensive end Robaire Smith and talented nose tackle Shaun Smith were off-season free agent acquisitions, signed to improve the Browns' inconsistent and unimpressive run defense. Head coach Romeo Crennel is depending on Robaire Smith, an eight-year veteran, to provide consistency and anchor the right end position, starting opposite veteran Orpheus Roye. Meanwhile Shaun Smith will rotate with Ted Washington to improve the interior of the Browns rush defense, which was a sore point last season.
The off-season theme has been to stop the run. What should be the centerpiece of an AFC North team has been an ongoing issue for Crennel's defenses since his arrival in 2005. Better results are expected this season, given Crennel's vast experience on the defensive side of the ball and three years to refine the team's defensive scheme alongside defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
Hindering Crennel and Grantham could be lack of quality depth along the defensive line. However, a couple new additions could prove beneficial for a team, which lacked quickness and strength in 2006.
Through the college player draft, the Browns have added defensive ends Chase Pittman and Melila Purcell, along with late 2006 addition Orien Harris, to a stable consisting of Simon Frasier, J'Vonne Parker, Ethan Kelly, Babatunde Oshinowo, and Alvin Smith.
Frasier and Kelly saw playing time during the 2006 season, with Frasier gaining experience which may help him to become a fixture behind Roye on the depth chart.
The addition of Orien Harris could prove to be a very significant (and often overlooked) roster move. Coming out of the University of Miami, Harris was an inside defensive lineman, and was switched to end by the Steelers in his rookie campaign. Due to the depth of the Pittsburgh roster and Harris' inexperience, the Steelers placed him on the practice squad, where the Browns signed him late in the 2006 season. Harris displays promise at the defensive end position in the 3-4 defense, with some pass rush potential.
Purcell, a 2007 draft selection is undersized (266-lbs) for the end position in the 3-4, but the Browns like his ability to get to the quarterback. There is a possibility exists he could eventually play outside linebacker at the professional level.
With all the changes to the Browns defensive front, the line could ultimately make or break the success of the defense in the 2007 season. The depth remains questionable, with the youth on the roster expected to elevate its play due to experience and improved surrounding talent.
If the new additions don't step up to help, failure to stop the run could ultimately be the undoing of a promising Browns defense.