Vinny: Are the Players or Coaches the Issue?

The Cleveland run defense has been a thorn in the side of the team for seasons. Though the team added a couple players to the equation, the results have been the same in camp. Now, is it the players or coaches that can not get this unit to produce?

Another eventful training camp has come to pass, as the Cleveland Browns did their best professional football team imitation to date. The latest victim of the Browns express being the Chicago Bears.

Success in preseason games can be overblown, except for a team seeking an identity. Sure winning is nice, it makes the flight home much better. But what was proven on this night was a handful of bubble players getting one last chance to make an impression on the coaching staff.

The rush defense the Browns have provided throughout training camp has been terrible, with no relief in sight. Ted Washington moved about as well as the Terminal Tower. The only thing consistent about the play of Washington has been he will be led away from the play. Washington is alomost assured to be beaten off the snap, he no longer possesses the ability to utilize his size and strength to neutralize a quality offensive lineman. Washington's backup, the infamous Ethan Kelley looks like a pinball stuck bouncing between bumpers. Kelley may have taken up valuable space a little better than Washington, but he has quietly been neutralized by smaller and much quicker offensive linemen. We are not talking the starting offensive linemen the Browns have faced, but the second and third team linemen.

For as much negativity that has come up regarding the defensive line of the Browns, we would be providing a great injustice if we did not mention the little known and underappreciated Babatunde Oshinowo. Oshinowo was active, he beat his man to the spot on numerous occasions, he fought through every play and basically worked his rear-end off. If there is one defensive lineman in camp that should have received a much longer look, it was Oshinowo.

Nose tackle turned defensive end Shaun Smith should hunt down every copy of the game-film and file it into the nearest dumpster. His performance was poor, though he is playing out of position and is providing all he can to help a bad situation along the Browns defensive line. Consistently during the contest against the Broncos, Smith was being easily led away from the play and had no impact supporting or stopping the run. Whether the issue with Smith is conditioning, a lack of knowledge of the position responsibilities, or the physical lack of ability, his play at defensive end was very poor.

All the below average play coming from the Browns from line, leads to question the defensive line, defensive coordinator, and perhaps the head coach, who just happens to be a former defensive coordinator in the National Football League.

Randy Melvin has been the Browns defensive line coach since the 2005 season and former colleague of Crennel while with the New England Patriots. Relatively unknown, Crennel noted Melvin has developed several very good defensive linemen and brings a very structured and organized approach and is an excellent teacher. Todd Grantham is the defensive coordinator of the Browns and had been generally known as a good defensive line coach while with the Indianapolis Colts and expansion Houston Texans. In the case of Crennel, he has been around the game for over 30-years and has seen and done it all.

Enough of the patting on the backs, these three men has been responsible for a run defense which continues to appear to be on the decline. The additional of defensive end Robaire Smith and nose tackle Shaun Smith is expected to bring stability to a defensive line which has been undermanned and under motivated. While the talent level of the defensive line has been questionable throughout the years, the latest additions are expected to produce.

Robaire Smith's best years have come while a member of the 4-3 defense. While Smith has played the 3-4 defense, the scheme the Browns utilize, his best days come from a different scheme and has not impressed in his limited time with the Browns. Here is to hoping that this is the case of veteran player knowing when to take it a little easy and save himself, as camp winds down.

Shaun Smith has been a career backup and is being touted as a viable teammate to clog the middle of the Browns defensive line, splitting time with the ageless and immobile Washington. Smith fared well in practice sessions in training camp, until the staff moved him to end to replace an injured Orpheus Roye (knee surgery).

If not for an improving secondary and an exceptional player such as outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, the Cleveland defense would be in shambles. The off-season addition of pass rushing linebacker Antwan Peek may prove to the best signing of the off-season for a team which was displayed limited pass rush potential during the 2006 season. Peek, not generally known for his ability against the run and in pass coverage has fared well in practice sessions, and this ability has been recognized in his solid preseason game performances.

Teams generally take on the personality of the head coach. After sifting through yet another Romeo Crennel speaking engagement on the sideline during the half, then his motivational post-game press conference, I am convinced, this team plays to the level of the coach.

Boring. Unmotivated. No sense of urgency.

All sound vaguely familiar when discussing the Cleveland Browns. This is the continuing saga of mediocrity which has become Browns' football, for the fans of the team, it has been an uneventful ride. For the owner of the team, Randy Lerner, he feels the heat and frustration all around him, but he had his hand in the issue, as it believed he wanted to prolong the hiring process for Crennel, the then defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots.

Hard to fault the logic and determination of the owner, as Crennel has been a part of numerous Super Bowl winning coaching staff's, and proudly wears one of the championship rings to prove it. Known as a very strong defensive coordinator on the staff's of Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, Crennel had been bypassed on numerous occasions for a head coaching position.

As a side-note, we also have been told general manager Phil Savage wanted to bring former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to Cleveland with him to be the head coach. As Crennel and the Browns have waddled around, making some progress, Nolan has turned around a San Francisco team which was as poor as the Browns, just two short seasons ago.

As the momentum builds toward another season, many questions remain unanswered in Browns' camp. Rather than watch and wonder why the defensive line is porous, maybe the staff should look at itself, get the scouting department together for a group photo, as it may be one of the last things this group does together, if this ship does not right it's course quickly.

If not, then we can start hearing the Bill Cowher talk again.

Until next time,

V


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