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Browns 2012 review: Defensive line

Jan 09, 2013 -- 6:00am

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By Tony Grossi

The Morning Kickoff …

2012 position review: With all the post-season attention riveted on the Browns’ football operations overhaul, not much has been paid to the players. After the coach and personnel director are found, the roster will get a thorough review. This is the second in a periodic series analyzing the Browns’ position groups.

Position: Defensive line.

Players under contract (through year): Hall Davis (2013), John Hughes (’15), Ishmaa’ily Kitchen (’14), Frostee Rucker (’16), Ahtyba Rubin (’14), Brian Sanford (’13), Jabaal Sheard (’14), Phil Taylor (’14), Billy Winn (’15).

Players not under contract: Auston English, Juqua Parker, Emmanuel Stephens.

Total snaps (incl. special teams): Sheard, 1,058; Winn, 770; Rubin, 724;Rucker, 631; Parker, 539; Hughes, 528; Taylor, 300; Kitchen, 209; Stephens, 184; Davis, 22; Sanford, 15.

Most common starters: Sheard, Rubin, Winn, Rucker.

Analysis: This is the position that former GM Tom Heckert invested in more than any other. But his best-laid plans went astray when Taylor had pectoral muscle surgery in May and missed the first nine games, and Rubin missed all of training camp after sports hernia surgery and three games with a calf muscle tear. An eight-man rotation was achieved when rookie draft picks Winn and Hughes, and rookie waiver pickup Kitchen, stepped in and performed better than anticipated. But the unit was not nearly good enough until Taylor and Rubin reunited for the final seven games. Over that period, the run defense improved from 132.2 yards per game to 101.0, and Sheard had six of his team-high seven sacks. Sheard’s rally rewarded him for perseverance and dependability. He was on the field for 85 percent of the team’s defensive snaps – a figured that tied him for ninth in the NFL among defensive linemen. Of Heckert’s two veteran free agent acquisitions, Parker outperformed Rucker. Parker, 34, signed a one-year contract and is probably gone. Rucker, 29, came much more expensively and is signed for four more years – longer than any player except franchise left tackle Joe Thomas.

Bottom line: After Heckert invested two years in reshaping the line to a 4-3 system, returning to a 3-4 alignment would seem a waste of effort and millions of dollars.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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