Rich's Rant: Aggressive 'D'? Hell Yeah!!!

In his latest offering, Rich Passan is damn-near orgasmic over the thought of a Rob Ryan-led defense that might actually (gasp!) pin its ears back and attack.

For years, Cleveland Browns fans have clamored for a defense that reflected the personality of the city the team represented.

You know that type: Hard working, tough, aggressive, blue collar, always battling. That epitomized Cleveland. Tough town. Had to be with all the crap it has endured with its sports teams.

For way too many years, the cries of the fans for an aggressive defense have gone unheeded. Mind your own business and we'll mind ours, the club seemed to say. You take care of the spending and rooting and we'll take care of the playing.

Browns fans the last 10 years have had to put up with the kind of defense that more resembled the outcome of a Republican convention. Conservative is not nearly a strong enough word to describe it.

Ever since the return in 1999, fans have been treated to marshmallow defense in a sport that almost demands aggression when the opposition has the football. Made no difference who the coordinator was. The result was always the same.

Rather than create problems for opposing offenses, the Browns always seemed to hire coaches who espoused more cautious approaches. From Bob Slowik to Mel Tucker, it was the same old, same old.

Keep everything in front of you. Gap integrity. The infamous bend and fracture defense.

That's why it is refreshing to listen to new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan discuss what Browns fans can expect this season. If Ryan is to be believed, the days of conservative defensive football are over in Cleveland.

Those come-from-behind victories by opposing teams in the final minutes of a game? Gone.

You know the kind I mean when you just know the Browns will do something wrong to lose. Who knew there were so many different ways to lose a game in the waning minutes?

Gone, Ryan assured, are the puzzling conservative defenses that almost begged the opposition to exploit.

Ryan, whose DNA through father Buddy and twin brother Rex suggests a significantly more truculent approach to the game of football, wants his men to play the game the way it was meant to be played when the opposition owns the ball.

He comes from the school that believes aggressive and innovative football are important keys to success. Make the opponent wonder what you're going to do next.

It is abundantly clear that gray is not his favorite color and vanilla is not his flavor of choice.

He brings to Cleveland, at least on the surface, an attitude and creativity so necessary to aggressive football. Slap the opposition in the face. Arrive at the opening kickoff with a personality that is more than just slightly bent.

Give opposing teams one look and then come with something entirely different. Keep them off balance. Make them guess.

Offense is all about rhythm. Mess with that rhythm and all kinds of things can go wrong.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes before Ryan can get his men to relate to that approach.

The late Eddie Robinson at Grambling always liked to say he wanted his football players agile, mobile and hostile with the emphasis on the latter. That, in large part, was the reason he was so eminently successful and one of the legends of college football.

The Browns have been anything but hostile over the past decade. They have lacked an on-field demeanor so vital for any success to be achieved. They don't have to look very far to see how important that is.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens play with a swagger on defense. It's a chip-on-your-shoulder, punch-out-your-lights approach that can elevate the performance of an average player to one of excellence and boost an above-average player to stardom.

Perfect example: Linebacker James Harrison of the Steelers was cut several times before latching on as a special teamer. And when he got his chance to start, he became one of the premier defensive players in the National Football League and rode it all the way to the Pro Bowl and a myriad of post-season honors.

Playing solid defense is about scheme and attitude. That, in large part, is why Dick LeBeau has been so successful in Pittsburgh. The same with Rex Ryan when he coordinated the Ravens' defense so successfully. It helped him become Eric Mangini's successor with the Jets in New York.

All Rob Ryan has to do is to get his men to buy into his line of thinking and the rest, presumably, will take care of itself.

It won't be easy. Early on, there will be blown assignments. Expect them. Consider them growing pains. But the more comfortable the players get with the system and the more Ryan becomes comfortable with their progress, the better it will become.

The danger here, however, will be Mangini's patience to stay the course and ride out the growing pains.

Ryan says he will incorporate some of the famed 46 defense his father invented a generation ago into the Browns' scheme this season. Nothing wrong with that.

Finally, someone willing to be creative. Someone who dares to be different. Someone unafraid to bend the edges of the envelope. 

One of the keys here is Ryan's confidence in his young cornerbacks, who will play a vital role in that scheme. Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald are not nearly as bad as some would believe.

Their problems last season stemmed from the club's gross inability to rush the quarterback. Too often they were left naked in coverage by a defensive front that gave opposing quarterbacks oodles of time to throw.

That's not going to happen this season with Ryan placing a much greater emphasis on introducing his front seven to those same quarterbacks, forcing them into mistakes.

At his news conference recently, Ryan said the 2009 Browns would not be a sit-back-and-watch defense. "What we're going to have here in Cleveland is an attacking defense," he said. "It's going to be an exciting defense."

Can't remember when I heard those words proclaimed by a Browns coach. I can't wait. This should be fun.


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