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A.J. Green might not be the biggest concern for the Browns' pass defense

Oct 11, 2012 -- 4:40pm

By Tony Grossi

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Extra Points …

Another brushfire on defense: Don’t think all the Browns’ woes in their beleaguered secondary are instantly cured by the return of cornerback Joe Haden Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Haden gives the Browns some comfort in blanketing elite receiver A.J. Green wherever he goes. The Bengals expect him to be used that way.

But the loss of Dimitri Patterson – the team’s best nickel back, by far – poses yet another challenge to defensive coordinator Dick Jauron. Who takes his place covering Cincinnati slot receiver Andrew Hawkins?

“There’s not limitless options there,” Jauron said dryly on Thursday. “We’ll just have to see how the week unfolds.”

The options are these:

* Move the embattled Buster Skrine inside, where he has never played in an NFL game.

* Play rookie Trevin Wade in the slot, where he has worked exclusively all year as Patterson’s backup.

Either option Jauron chooses will be noted closely by Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. It may, in fact, be the key matchup to decide the contest on Sunday.

Nickel’s worth: Covering a quick and slippery slot receiver like Hawkins might be the toughest “sub” assignment on a defense. Cornerbacks can’t rely on the boundary of the sideline to help themselves out.

“Things happen very quickly,” Jauron said. “It’s hard becauyse you have field all around you. Not everybody can go in there, even if you’re a terrific outside player.”

The nickel back has to be quick – that’s why Sheldon Brown isn’t a candidate – and an able tackler. Skrine has the attributes, and his shortness sure won’t hurt him against the 5-7 Hawkins. But it’s extremely hard to play that role without extended practice – and he only recently has picked up practice reps inside.

Plus, Skrine has been beaten regularly during Haden’s four-game absence. He wouldn’t be human if he weren’t feeling it of late. Jauron’s confidence in him appears unwavering, however.

“I just have a lot of admiration for the way he plays, the toughness,” Jauron said. “Clearly he’s learning a lot. He’s getting schooled at times. He’s making plays also. His speed and his quickness are gifted. He has something you can’t teach. And he prepares so hard at practice and he listens with (coaches) Tim (Hauck) and Ray (Rhodes). He’s developing. He’s going to get penalties. You can’t have as many as he’s gottenI have a strong belief in him. And he’s a terrific young man. Just a tough player. I think he’s alright (mentally).”

T-Wade wants another chance: Because Patterson shadowed Green in Haden's absence in the first meeting in Cincinnati, Wade was pressed to cover the slot in his very first NFL game in Week 2. He was doing OK until Andy Dalton and Hawkins hooked up for a 50-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

Dalton was flushed out of the pocket and Wade made the common mistake of losing sight of his receiver. Hawkins caught the pass and then zig-zagged his way to the end zone. Wade missed on two tackle attempts.

“I’ll remember the next time not to follow the quarterback,” Wade told me this week with a grin.

“He learned,” Jauron said. “Trev is aware, very aware. He’s played well for us and will get better. He’s tackled well. He’s ready to go if he needs to go in there.”

Jauron won’t tip his hand how he is leaning. I think it’s a key decision in this game.

Remember these situations come draft time. This is the reason most every team, including the Browns, load up on cornerbacks in the middle rounds. You can never have too many.

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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