The Browns off-season to-do list had "improve the run defense" written at the top. And in the opening hours, put themselves in a terrific position to mark that item "complete" in the very near future.
It was a tremendous accomplishment. The improvement will go beyond simply adding players with considerable ability. The additions will have ripple effects which will give the defensive coaching staff greater flexibility and allow young linebackers Kamerion Wimbley and D'Qwell Jackson to take their next step in their growth.
Immediately after the free agent player signing period kicked off at 12:01AM on February 29th, the Cleveland Browns jumped into the fray, quickly acquiring one of the most sought players in the market, the franchise-tagged defensive lineman Corey Williams of the Green Bay Packers.
Paying the attached price tag of a second-round draft selection in the 2008 college player draft for Williams services is a no-brainer. Williams has come into his own, and was a major factor in the defensive line of the resurgent Pack.
In Cleveland, Williams will be cast as a defensive end in the Browns 3-4 defensive scheme. This may be, in reality, his truest calling. Williams is expected to become a force within the Cleveland defensive structure due to his physical play, improving skills and tireless drive to succeed. He is a badly needed addition for a defense that was often unable to rush the quarterback and contain the run in 2007.
Williams was already a huge upgrade, replacing the jettisoned Orpheus Roye.
But the Browns next move in the initial 24-hour free agency whirlwind could be the largest move by the team to date.
The Browns jumped immediately back into the fray and acquired the services of defensive tackle Shaun Rogers from the Detroit Lions. Rogers could be a formidable and significant force in any interior defensive line, but had fallen out of favor in Detroit due to questionable work habits. He had gained substantial weight, affecting his overall performance.
When in game shape and motivated, Rogers is an upper tier player at the defensive tackle position. Prior to 2007, Rogers consistently commanded double-teams and remained a disruptive force on the inside. Rogers' agent Kennard McGuire has repeatedly suggested that the defensive lineman needed a change of scenery to return to his Pro Bowl level of play.
If he's right, the Browns will finally have the critical component - a dominating nose tackle - for Romeo Crennel's 3-4 defense.
Rogers has been perceived as a malcontent by some. During his time with the Lions, he was suspended for violating the league substance abuse policy (four-game suspension for alleged steroid use), and had an off-field personal incident.
Both Williams and Rogers have been successful in base 4-3 defensive schemes. Williams has played end and tackle in the 4-3, while Rogers has been exclusively a tackle in the scheme. They are not perceived as scheme players. What makes both appealing is the baseline talent and flexibility of both players.
Cleveland is expected to change up its defensive philosophy heading into the 2008 season, although the 3-4 remains the base defensive set. Multiple gap responsibility can be anticipated, but the underlying factor in the scheme will be ability to utilize the strength and ability of Rogers inside, with the high-motor of Williams lining opposite Robaire Smith.
A weakness of the Cleveland defense has been addressed in spectacular fashion.
With the core of the defensive line now stabilized, the team continues to pursuit help in another questionable area, the linebackers.
Stay tuned, as the off-season in Cleveland is again proving on paper to be yet another stroke of genius for Phil Savage and his gang.