Passan: The Pressure's on Mel

With the investments the Browns have made on defense, the will be no time to wait for production. Rich Passan argues that Mel Tucker will be likely be inclined to shift the Browns defensive philosophy in a way that unleashes the team's new talent...

Now that General Manager Phil Savage had addressed the Browns' defense in a major way, we are going to find out in a hurry whether the elevation of Mel Tucker will have a profound impact on the new season.

It won't be a surprise like the offense was last season when Derek Anderson and his crew caused the National Football League to stand up and take notice that the Browns had begun to shed their doormat label. At least on that side of the ball.

No, there will be no shocks for the Browns this season on defense. They will be better. Count on it. They certainly can't be any worse than they've been the last three seasons.

The only shock that could possibly occur is if they don't improve at all. And that's where Tucker faces the greatest pressure. Failure to make any kind of progress is not an option.

With the likes of defensive tackle Shaun Rogers and defensive end Corey Williams now on board, not to mention a veteran or two Savage will sign before training camp, fans now expect Tucker to make a difference. It has ventured beyond the hoping stage. The results must be positive and immediate.

Savage has seen to it that excuses for failing to improve will not be tolerated. Lack of talent in the past provided some justification for the defense's shortcomings. Not anymore. The talent clearly is there.

This isn't to say Tucker won't be successful. His rapid rise to his current position indicates Savage and his minions believe he can produce a dominant enough defense to keep the Browns in games and take some pressure off the offense, which won last season despite repeated absences by its counterparts.

Three key areas Tucker must improve immediately are stopping the run, rushing the quarterback and creating turnovers. Not exactly bulletin material. The Browns have ranked near the National Football League basement in those key categories the last several years.

And with Rogers and Williams joining the Smiths (Robaire and Shaun) in the front-line rotation, improving the first two looks more and more realistic. If the road graders up front do what they're supposed to, and there's no good reason to believe they won't, we'll get a chance to see just how good – or average – the linebackers are.

Last season, none of the backers played well enough to cause waves of ecstasy due to the defensive line's inability to neutralize opposing offensive lines. That figures to change this season with a more aggressive approach.

Defense, by its very nature, is aggression. Players on that side of the ball love to hit, love to get in the first lick. The more aggressive a team is on defense, the more likely it will be successful.

The Browns, for the most part, played more of a read and react defense under previous defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Rarely did they get after the quarterback and rarely did they literally attack the ball.

It wouldn't be surprising to see Tucker turn Rogers and Williams loose on opposing quarterbacks since both have displayed the ability to penetrate the opposition's backfield. And if Tucker can push the right buttons with Rogers, whose reputation for taking off plays has stunted his growth, then anything is possible. That, however, could be a huge if.

This season, there will be no ifs concerning the inside linebackers. You can expect them to make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage in a more active effort to stop the run.

We've all heard about the wonderful football instincts of inside backer D'Qwell Jackson, but it came with a caveat. He was too small. Light in the pants, said the experts. Well, the Browns now list Jackson at 240 pounds, so those pants have filled out. No more excuses.

The same for Andra Davis or Leon Williams, who will battle to play opposite Jackson. Williams is younger, quicker and more active than Davis, whose starting job hangs precariously in the balance. This could finally be the year Davis becomes a spectator.

And outside backer Kamerion Wimbley should benefit from the presence of Williams and Rogers, whose ability to tie up offensive linemen should help free him to make the kind of plays expected of him when he was drafted two years ago.

Wimbley thrives on harassing the quarterback and unless I miss my guess, he'll finally get the opportunity to show why Savage made him the club's top pick in 2006. If the Browns can force opponents into second-and-long situations, don't be surprised to see them play a lot of even-man fronts on passing downs with Wimbley moving up and putting his hand on the ground as a defensive end.

At first, Tucker's biggest test will be gaining the confidence of the defense. This being his first pro shot as a coordinator, it wouldn't surprise that a few veterans cast a wary eye his way until he can prove himself. Being responsible for an entire unit is a lot different than coaching a small group of defensive backs.

The incumbents from last season's secondary will vouch for him. The ultimate litmus test lies perilously ahead. He's got to quickly get the attention of the rest of the defense.

With the expectation level as high as it is, the pressure weighs much more heavily on Tucker than it ever did on Grantham.


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