By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
How to build continuity: With five games to go, nobody knows what the future holds for Browns coach Pat Shurmur.
Clarity would come if he ran the table and finished 8-8. That would mean a sweep of the hated Pittsburgh Steelers and a 3-3 record against AFC North rivals. Who among the coach’s numerous critics could deny a reprieve for Shurmur given those unexpected achievements?
Less than that, what is the measuring stick to gauge CEO Joe Banner’s stated priority of leadership? If not wins and losses, isn’t it developing young players, keeping a team together through adversity, rising above unforeseen challenges while still establishing an identity that can and should be sustained?
Come to think of it, isn’t that what Dick Jauron has done on defense?
No matter what happens with the head coach position, Jauron should be retained as coordinator of the defense.
Keeping Jauron would maintain continuity on the side of the ball that is undisputedly the team’s strength. It also would allow Jauron to take the defense to a level that has not been possible this season because of injuries to key veterans on the unit and the four-game suspension of cornerback Joe Haden.
Adjusting on the fly: Let’s recount the pieces Jauron has been without.
Defensive tackles Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin – the cornerstones of the entire unit – did not play together until the 10th game. Outside linebacker Chris Gocong blew out an Achilles tendon in training camp and missed the entire season. Outside linebacker Scott Fujita missed all but three games. Haden missed five games (one because of injury) and No. 3 cornerback Dimitri Patterson has missed six games, and counting.
Jauron has seamlessly fitted in young replacements such as rookie tackles John Hughes and Billy Winn, undrafted linebackers Craig Robertson and L.J. Fort and rookie James-Michael Johnson, and second- and first-year cornerbacks Buster Skrine and Trevin Wade.
Throughout such adversity, the defense has made significant strides.
* The eight turnovers produced in the Pittsburgh game raised the season total to 25 – fourth-most in the league and seven more than all of last season.
* After limiting their last two opponents, Dallas and Pittsburgh, to 63 and 49 rushing yards, respectively, the Browns have risen to 19th against the run. That’s their highest ranking – by four – in that bugaboo category since they returned in 1999.
* And they are 16th in points per game – respectable considering six key players have lost a total of 47 games to injury or suspension.
Jauron commands universal respect from his players through a steady demeanor, impeccable honesty and fairness, a rare combination of intelligence and street smarts, and his ability to communicate and deliver a gameplan through an economy of words easy to understand.
“A lot of things have transpired in Cleveland the past two years that are beyond most people’s control, but Dick has been a calming presence through all of it,” wrote Fujita in an email response. “Players know what they’re going to get with him.
“I’m anxious to see this defense continue to grow with Dick as the coordinator. He has so many young, talented players that will keep getting better and better. And as the players keep getting more comfortable in the scheme, and as Dick gets more comfortable with the players’ ability to collectively manage every aspect of the game, then he’ll really be able to get creative and dial it up on defense.
“This unit has the ability to be really special.”
Why continuity is important: Under GM Tom Heckert, the Browns have been collecting players to fit the 4-3 defensive scheme used by Jauron. If the new regime decided to hire a coach who favored the 3-4 scheme, a massive roster upheaval would be in order.
Taylor, Rubin and Hughes would be 3-4 nose tackles, but none could play end in a 3-4. None of the current ends would fit as 3-4 ends. Left end Jabaal Sheard, the 2011 second-round draft pick, could not transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker. There is no prototypical rush linebacker on the roster to anchor a 3-4.
The team is too imbedded in the 4-3 defensive scheme to change now.
If owner Jimmy Haslam has designs on, say, noted 3-4 enthusiast Nick Saban as a head coach possibility, he should take a cue from the Steelers, the organization with which he apprenticed as a minority partner.
When the Steelers sought a successor to retiring coach Bill Cowher, they made sure they retained ace defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
Eventually, the head coach job went to Mike Tomlin, a defensive coach whose entire NFL experience had been in the 4-3, Tampa 2 scheme under Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden, before taking it to Minnesota under then-head coach Brad Childress.
The Steelers have drafted for LeBeau’s 3-4 scheme for decades and weren’t about to change to fit Tomlin’s defensive preference. Tomlin had to accept LeBeau’s defense as a condition of the job. That was the Steelers Way.
The Browns Way under Haslam and Banner should include Jauron as defensive coordinator. He has a good thing going and it shouldn’t be dismantled if they decide to make a coaching change.
|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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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