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Can the Browns defense step up?

Suddenly, the Browns defense doesn’t look so dominating after facing two top level quarterbacks in Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers. Now the Browns have a new starting quarterback in Jason Campbell and perhaps some hope that the offense will contribute to the effort, even against a stout Kansas City defense. But more importantly, even with the Chiefs being 7-0, the Browns ought to be able to slow down this offense. Alex Smith has played very well, but he’s not taking many chances throwing the ball downfield. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton seemed to indicate a more aggressive approach in the coming weeks, and that makes against Smith and the Chiefs. The Browns can play aggressive in order to stuff the run and press the receivers, daring Smith to throw the ball downfield. Horton also has more players back healthy which should give him much more flexibility. Let’s see how it plays out.

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Which pass rusher can the Browns get in the draft?

Prepare to hear the names Bjoern Werner, Jarvis Jones and Damontre Moore quite a bit inn connection to the Browns leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft. All are excellent pass rushers, and regardless of the type of defense the Browns end up running, they’ll probably be targeting this position as one of their priorities heading into the draft and free agency.

In early mock draft, we saw Moore’s name in connection with Cleveland at #6, but now he seems to be rising as Mel Kiper has him going #2 to the Jaguars. Meanwhile, Kiper now has Werner going to the Browns:

I’ve heard Werner compared to J.J. Watt, and while he’s not nearly at Watt’s somewhat extraordinary level, and doesn’t yet have the size to work primarily inside at this point, in terms of his great awareness as a pass-rusher, there might be something to it. Not only does Werner provide immediate impact as a pass-rusher, like Watt, he defends the pass with his eyes and gets his hands up, disrupts passing lanes and swats away throws. A late arrival to football, he has a high ceiling. He’s an ideal fit in Cleveland, a team that saw the defense regress in 2012.

Sounds like a good fit!

Joe Haden analyzes 2012 NFL Draft

Joe Haden talks about the draft picks, and also explains that the offseason preparation will help the defense get better.

Browns keep everyone guessing

Peter King talks about the Browns in his recent column about the NFL Draft:

2. The Browns are the pivot point of the first round at No. 4. You have the big quarterbacks going 1-2, and then Minnesota is praying it can stir up interest at No. 3. Not going to happen, according to the teams I’ve talked to, because there isn’t enough love for another of these five prospects — tackle Matt Kalil, running back Trent Richardson, cornerback Morris Claiborne, wideout Justin Blackmon or quarterback Ryan Tannehill to move up to three. Or four.

If the Vikings stay where they are, it’s most likely they go for the long-term protector of second-year QB Christian Ponder instead of a desperately needed cover man like Claiborne. Then, Cleveland. I heard different things over the weekend from people I trust. GM Tom Heckert loves Blackmon and that would be his pick; president Mike Holmgren is still trying to decide with finality if Tannehill is the franchise quarterback worth taking here. The safest pick? Richardson, at a need position, even though receiver is a bigger need.

The Browns are obviously keeping all their options open and I suspect that they haven’t finalized their decision. Everything King said makes sense, but any or all of it could be misinformation floated by the Browns in order to influence other teams in the draft so the Browns can get the trade they want or the player they want at #4. If they want Richardson, for example, they might be worried about Tampa Bay trading up to #3 with the Vikings to get him.

Barring a trade, I still prefer Trent Richardson at #4, then hopefully the best wide receiver at #22 and then Brandon Weeden at #37. As King notes, everything may hinge on how Mike Holmgren feels about the quarterbacks. I’m not pulling for the Browns to get Ryan Tannehill, but if Holmgren thinks he can be a franchise quarterback, then they have to consider taking him.

Browns sign Bengals DE Frostee Rucker

It was interesting watching Twitter over the past several days, as many Browns fans started freaking out immediately when the Browns didn’t make an immediate signing. Some in the media fanned the flames of stupidity, with Tony Rizzo going on an epic rant, which is typical for Rizz – all emotion, zero analysis.

The Browns are not going to build this team by emulating Daniel Snyder and other buffoons who think you can buy a championship through free agency. The smart teams like Pittsburgh, New England and Green Bay rarely make a splash in March by breaking the bank for free agents. They do the opposite – they release their guys when they become too expensive.

The Browns did make a move, signing Bengals defensive end Frostee Rucker.

6. So who is Frostee Rucker, the defensive end signed by the Browns? He is consider a very solid player against the run. For what it’s worth, Profootballfocus.com rated Rucker the No. 13 defender among ends in a 4-3 defense against the run. He played 43 percent of the snaps for the Bengals last season — 259 runs, 213 passes. He had four sacks, two quarterback hits and five quarterback pressures. He wasn’t flagged for a penalty. So his specialty is against the run.

7. Signing him to a 5-year, $21 million deal ($8 million guaranteed) means the Browns believe Rucker is capable of playing most of the snaps at right end. He will replace Jayme Mitchell, who was handed the right end spot and couldn’t keep it. He had only 1.5 sacks and seemed invisible by the final month of the season.

This is not a sexy signing, but it’s the kind of thing smart teams do in free agency – plug holes and add depth. The Browns defense was much better last year, but they we still atrocious against the run. We all love hearing about pass rushers, but adding a defensive end that plays the run well is very important to this team.

Perhaps the Browns won’t draft a pass rusher high now in the draft, but I suspect Heckert has his eyes on some players he’d like to add, so we may see Rucker sharing time with more of a pass rush specialist who comes in on passing downs while Rucker anchors the right end position.

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