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Changes in Browns secondary includes a reduced role for Sheldon Brown

Sep 20, 2012 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi


The Morning Kickoff …

Secondary concerns are primary: The Browns know they can’t survive the four-game suspension of cornerback Joe Haden by sacking the quarterback six times in a game and giving up 300 yards passing and three touchdowns.

That’s what happened in Cincinnati with Andy Dalton, a young, good – but not great – quarterback.

What happens when they face Joe Flacco in Baltimore? Eli Manning in New Jersey?

“We have one piece missing right now, so we’re trying to find the right combination, whether it be at safety or corner, for us that works,” said coach Pat Shurmur. “That’s why you’ll see different guys in there. We’re just trying to find the right combination.”

Apparently, the right combination includes a new, reduced role for veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown.

Taking one for the team: Prior to Sunday's game in Cincinnati, Brown had started 128 of his last 129 games. He did not start in Cincinnati because of a shoulder and neck injury. He's able to play this week, but on Wednesday Brown told ESPNCleveland that he has been taken off the starting unit.

“I just come in in the nickel package,” he said.

Brown sat out all but one play in Cincinnati. In his place, second-year corner Buster Skrine had what even Skrine described as a rough afternoon. Nevertheless, the Browns apparently have decided that Skrine will improve only by getting more reps.

“Sometimes when you have young guys on the field you go through growing pains like that,” Brown said. “But I genuinely, in the bottom of my heart, I believe in the guys out there. And I know they’re going to get better. You can’t judge a guy off one effort. It’s not fair.”

In the Cincinnati game, Dimitri Patterson, the replacement starter for Haden, stayed on the outside in nickel situations and did not drop down inside to cover the slot receiver – which is his specialty. Instead, the Browns tried rookie Trevin Wade there. That experiment, apparently, has ended.

The plan against Buffalo, which lines up three receivers about 60 percent of the time, apparently is to return Patterson to slot duty and then use Skrine and Brown on the outside.

The Browns are hoping that reducing Brown’s role, and his snaps on the field by perhaps 50 percent, will keep the 33-year-old healthier and more productive for the duration of the season.

“What happens is your nickel, most of the time, doesn’t have to play 70 plays,” Brown said. “He only plays 30 to 40 plays most games. It doesn’t matter if he goes inside or outside. It just takes a lot off his tray.”

I thought Brown might be moved to the slot position, but he said that is not the plan. So Patterson will try a difficult double duty – playing on the outside in two-receiver sets and then dropping down to the slot in three-receiver formations.

There aren’t too many guys that can do that,” Brown said.

Beginning of the end?: By my calculations, Brown began the season as the second-oldest starting cornerback. There was Antoine Winfield, 34, in Minnesota, and Brown and Champ Bailey, 33, in Denver.

Brown said he’s “OK” with the move to nickel back.

“Yeah, I mean, it really doesn’t matter,” he said. “I told you from Day 1 I’m a team guy. Whatever they want to do I’m going to roll with it.”

Last week in Cincinnati, Brown extended his personal streak of 162 consecutive games played when he lined up for exactly one snap. He said he was put in when the Bengals lined up four wide receivers for only the second time in the game. The Browns gave up a touchdown the first time trying to cover Brandon Tate with safety Eric Hagg.

Brown has played through a lot of injuries during his streak and may have earned a “freebie” to keep it alive. But he denied the streak was overly important to him.

“I’ll be honest with you,” he said. “If it takes me to be deactivated so people quit talking about the streak, then I’ll be deactivated. I’m serious.

“Look, I’ve been with Tom (Heckert, GM) for a long time. Tom drafted me (59th overall, second round, in 2002). I have a lot of respect for his decision-making. So I’m not going to say it’s my streak that’s more important than your decision making.

“I understand that this team is, obviously, a young team and players need to play. I’m OK with that. I understand that. And I’m rooting for the guys that are playing.”

rns for the rematch with the Bengals on Oct. 14. By then, will it matter?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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