Right to the Point; The DB's

In what may be the strongest area of the roster, the defensive backs will be required to play at a high level, if the Browns expect to be competitive in the 2007 season.

Training camp in an event of the past, preseason games have come and gone. The 53-player roster has been set and preparation for the Pittsburgh Steelers is at the forefront. Defensively challenged against the run in recent seasons, the Browns look to pull a fast one on not only the Steelers, but the entire National Football League.

During a 2006 season the Cleveland defensive backfield was riddled with injury. New faces emerged in what appeared to be a weekly basis, as the cornerbacks for the team went down, one after another. Starters Leigh Bodden appeared in nine games, while Gary Baxter was lost for the balance of the season following torn patella tendons in each knee. Relatively unknown players such as Daven Holly and Jereme Perry, as well as veteran Ralph Brown stepped in and held down the fort, as the Cleveland passing defense was ranked 15th in the league.

Entering the 2007 season, the make-up of the Cleveland defensive backfield has changed. Starting free safety Brian Russell has departed via free agency to Seattle, which has opened the door for Brodney Pool to step in and fill the void. Gary Baxter is on the roster, but is not expected to see any playing time early in the season, leaving the spot open for rookie Eric Wright to fill. Wright, a second round draft selection has been everything the team expected and more, as he has displayed shutdown corner potential, with a nose for the football. Teams are going to test the mentally tough Wright from the onset, and he will take his lumps early.

Starting opposite of Wright will be Leigh Bodden. Fully recovered from off-season ankle surgery, Bodden is one of the better cover cornerbacks in the league and should help this improving defensive backfield. Bodden can be counted on to cover the number-one receiver of the opposition on a weekly basis. Teaming with Wright at the corners, this duo has the potential to be one of the better starting tandems in the league by the end of the season.

If either Bodden or Wright were to be lost for any period of time, the Browns are confident Daven Holly could step in and maintain a high level of quality play.

Holly, in his second season with the Browns was a long-shot to make the roster last season, but his quickness and tenacity kept him on the roster. Under the tutelage of defensive backs coach Mel Tucker, Holly is expected to see significant playing time in the nickel and dime defensive packages.

With many teams utilizing three receiver sets in their base offensive scheme, Holly could be the first cornerback coming off the bench.

Veteran Kenny Wright was signed by the team in the off-season to provide depth and insurance in the event the Browns suffered injuries at either the corner or safety in the 2007 season. By no stretch of the imagination is Kenny Wright a cover cornerback, but he does fit the bill as the type of cornerback this team looks for. He can be moderately physical and gets into position well, though he lacks overall speed and quickness to handle the upper-tier receivers on a consistent basis. In the nickel and dime packages, Wright can be effective covering a third or fourth receiver, as well as providing depth at free safety.

Rookie Brandon McDonald and Jereme Perry found a role on this team due to their special teams play. Both McDonald and Perry displayed energy in the kick coverage units, which added speed, quickness, and intensity to an already solid group. While McDonald is not expected to contribute much at all in his rookie season in the defensive backfield, his upside for the future is intriguing, as he cover much better in camp than many anticipated and he has the size and physical stature to grow into a large cornerback or possibly safety. Perry on the other-hand stepped in last season during the Browns injury woes in the defensive backfield and played reasonably well, all things considered. He can be counted on in the dime defensive packages and is a solid depth player.

Heading into the season, the depth chart at the safety positions appears rather light. The starting strong safety is Sean Jones, who is coming off an outstanding 2006 season, Starting along-side Jones will be Brodney Pool, entering his third season in the league and first as a starter at free safety. Mike Adams is the primary backup for Pool after coming over from the San Francisco 49ers in the off-season. Adams provides the team with better than average cover skills from the safety spot, and experience which is invaluable for a defensive unit looking to make a name for themselves.

Jones received plenty of recognition last season for his tremendous play. Very quick and strong, Jones has the ability to make plays in the defensive backfield, as he can close on a receiver quickly, deliver a punishing hit. Rarely is Jones beaten in coverage, as he has become extremely reliable in the middle of the Cleveland defense. Jones is physical enough to support the run, a facet of the Browns defense which has struggled for the past few seasons. Jones is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the better young defensive backs in the game today. Teaming with Pool in the backfield, the Browns safeties are solid in all aspects of the game, run support, pass coverage, and blitz package ability.

A wild-card for the Cleveland defense could be the return of defensive back Gary Baxter. While not expected to contribute on the field for a few weeks, the potential of Baxter in the defensive backfield as a safety is intriguing. Coming back from the serious knee injuries as Baxter is, the team is slowly bringing him along in hopes he can provide talent and depth. Due to his physical size and pass coverage ability, Baxter would appear to be a very good fit at safety. The jury is still out on whether Baxter can return to play competitively at a high level.

With questions surrounding the overall ability of the Browns to stop the run, the pass defense is easily the strength of the defense and should only improve with the talent added, as well as the Browns new found ability to rush the quarterback with Kamerion Wimbley and Antwan Peek.

LA


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