By Tony Grossi
Extra Points …
Never pass on a big man: I was invited into a Browns’ defensive draft meeting prior to the 2008 draft by then-GM Phil Savage. This was the year Savage traded his top three picks in an effort to reach for the brass ring following a 10-6 2007 season.
So I got to hear the discussion on defensive players considered for the team’s first pick – No. 104 overall in the fourth round. Savage had traded his No. 1 a year earlier for QB Brady Quinn, and his No. 2 and No. 3 for veteran defensive linemen Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers, respectively. The push was on to upgrade the defense after a wholly unexpected offensive resurgence in 2007.
Scouts and coaches each were polled about their prospective choices for the No. 104 overall pick. Savage sang the praises of a UNLV linebacker named Beau Bell. Most everyone else in the room, including coach Romeo Crennel, spoke highly of Iowa State defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin.
“You never pass on a quality big man,” was the common refrain.
Savage pulled rank and chose Bell with the fourth-round pick. Rubin flew under NFL radar until the sixth round. In a nod to the consensus in his draft room, Savage selected Rubin with the 190th overall pick of the draft.
It was the second-best selection in four drafts supervised by Savage. Number one Joe Thomas, who was chosen third overall in 2007.
Last year, in my annual player ratings done in my former life with The Plain Dealer, I ranked Rubin the No. 1 Browns player and Thomas No. 2. It is a true measure of Rubin’s football character that he could even be mentioned in the same breath as Thomas, a five-time Pro Bowler.
Tom Heckert, Savage’s successor, rewarded Rubin with a three-year contract extension for a reported $26.5 million, of which $18 million is guaranteed.
This week I asked Rubin how achieving such a big contract after such humble beginnings would change him.
“Not at all,” he said. “I feel like I’m really pushing for more wins now. The contract situation just solidifies me with the Browns.”
Bigger than ever: Rubin today is more important to the Browns’ season than anyone could have thought a year ago.
In May, 2011 No. 1 pick Phil Taylor had surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. He could be out for nine games minimum. Last week, top backup Scott Paxson suffered a knee injury that appears serious enough to keep him sidelined a long time. The Browns won’t disclose the severity until they have to.
On Tuesday, the Browns were awarded off waivers from Chicago undrafted free agent lineman Ronnie Cameron. He joins drafted rookies John Hughes, who now will start in Taylor’s place, and Billy Winn in the tackle rotation.
When Rubin arrived in 2008, he was naturally soft-spoken and shy. He listened to veterans on the d-line such as Rogers and Williams and Shaun Smith. Fortunately for the Browns, Rubin soaked up the good things and didn’t follow the counter-productive work habits and habitual complaining of Rogers, Williams and Smith.
“There were a lot of veterans when I came in, big names in the game,” Rubin said. “I guess now I have to be that guy and kind of show the way to the younger guys. It’s new to me, so I’m kind of picking up that role. I’m happy to be that guy.”
Don’t go changin’: Coordinator Dick Jauron believes Rubin’s unmatched work ethic and relentless hustle on game days will mean more than anything he could possibly say to Hughes, Winn and now Cameron.
“I don’t have any issues with Rubin. None,” Jauron said. “He doesn’t have to be vocal to lead. I don’t think there’s anybody on this football team that doesn’t have total respect for Rube.
“I just want him to be himself. Keep playing like he plays. I’d rather have it by example. If you had both, it would be OK. But I prefer example forever.”
Savage’s 2008 draft has been, well, savaged by critics. Rubin is the only player left from eight picks – and that number includes the players acquired in trades of the top three selections. I shudder to think what the Browns would do without him now.
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