Cleveland Browns Training Camp 2012: DL Preview (Starting Unit)

Jun 5, 2012; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Jabaal Sheard (97) stretches during minicamp at the Cleveland Browns training facility. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

To kick off our Down in the Trenches series for our training camp preview, we will look at the Cleveland Browns' projected starting unit across the defensive line. One name is notably absent from the list, and that is second-year defensive tackle Phil Taylor. He suffered a torn left pectoral muscle in May and is expected to begin the season on the physically unable to perform list. There seems to be a good chance that he will return later in the season, but for the purposes of these previews, we'll be looking more at the players who could end up filling his shoes.

After the jump are the four defensive linemen who are currently slated to start for the Browns -- Jabaal Sheard, Scott Paxson, Ahtyba Rubin, and Frostee Rucker. I have ranked the four players in order of importance or level of talent.

1. AHTYBA RUBIN - STARTING RIGHT DEFENSIVE TACKLE

8276_mediumAhtyba Rubin (#71)
Height:
6-2
Weight: 330
Age: 25
Experience: 5 years
College: Iowa State
Note: Played 86.58% of snaps in 2011...a good run stuffer...high effort player.

After signing a four-year, $27.6 million contract at the beginning of last season, Rubin responded with his best career numbers. In his first year transitioning from a 3-4 nose tackle to a 4-3 defensive tackle, Rubin registered 83 combined tackles, 5 sacks, and 12 quarterback hits. I thought Rubin got better as the year went on; in the final two games of the season against Baltimore and Pittsburgh, he had 16 tackles and 2 sacks.

I don't know if there is anything we need to hope for Rubin to improve upon in 2012. He is already the type of high-effort player who can make a difference as both a run stuffer and a pass rusher. One thing that is a little disappointing is that Rubin might have to be overworked for the second year in a row. Last year, he reportedly played 86.58% of the team's defensive snaps, which was the 8th highest in the league among defensive linemen. Rookie John Hughes was expected to play a role in giving both defensive tackles a rest this year, but now the team will probably need Rubin to stay on the field while they patch the spot next to him.

Player Quality: B+
Final Roster Odds: 100%



2. JABAAL SHEARD - STARTING LEFT DEFENSIVE END

8276_mediumJabaal Sheard (#97)
Height:
6-2
Weight: 255
Age: 23
Experience: 2 years
College: Pittsburgh
Note: Gives the Browns an every-down pass rushing threat...forces fumbles.

While he did not quite match Kamerion Wimbley's 11-sack rookie effort from 2006, it was still an impressive first year for Sheard. Sheard registered 55 combined tackles, 8.5 sacks, and 9 quarterback hits. One of the categories people might forget about is forced fumbles -- he had five of those as a rookie, as well as one fumble recovery. For being a second-round pick (as opposed to a first-round pick), I would say the Browns made a great decision to draft him.

Sheard began his rookie year on the right side of the defensive line, but was quickly moved over to the left side. Like Rubin, Sheard was also a workhorse last season, reportedly playing in 88.44% of the team's defensive snaps, which was fourth most in the league among defensive linemen. Sheard saw some double teams in 2011, but adding the pass rushing Ja'qua Parker on the other side of the line might give him some more one-on-one opportunities. Sheard was good against the run, but I think he still has some room to improve when it comes to staying disciplined on delayed runs (i.e. the offensive lineman baits him to pass rush).

Player Quality: B
Final Roster Odds: 100%



3. FROSTEE RUCKER - STARTING RIGHT DEFENSIVE END

8276_mediumFrostee Rucker (#92)
Height:
6-3
Weight: 280
Age: 28
Experience: 7 years
College: USC
Note: Expected to move to DT on third downs...good at stuffing the run.

Rucker was a third-round pick by the Bengals back in 2006. He was primarily a backup prior to this past season, when he started 11 games. In 2011, he registered 44 combined tackles, 4 sacks, and 7 quarterback hits.

As one of the team's few free agent acquisitions (5 years, $21 million), Rucker was lured to the Browns because they told him he would be given the keys to the position, meaning he won't be a rotational player like he was during most of his time in Cincinnati. Cleveland seems to have big plans for Rucker -- in pass rushing situations, they are going to keep him on the field but move him to the interior of the line, presumably allowing either Parker or Marcus Benard to play on the outside. Rucker is supposed to play a key role in improving the Browns' run defense this year, but he can also rush the quarterback.

Player Quality: C+
Final Roster Odds: 100%



4. SCOTT PAXSON - POTENTIAL STARTING LEFT DEFENSIVE TACKLE

8276_mediumScott Paxson (#69)
Height:
6-4
Weight: 290
Age: 29
Experience: 3 years
College: Penn State
Note: Despite his age, his true experience in the NFL didn't come until 2011.

Even though Paxson is currently penciled in here, the starting role at left defensive tackle is definitely up for grabs in training camp after the injury to Taylor. During the team's organized team activity and minicamp sessions, Paxson reportedly saw more snaps than anyone else at the position.

Paxson's most memorable moment in 2011 came when he, along with Brian Schafering, put a nice lick on Ben Roethlisberger, forcing him to come out of the game with an ankle injury. Paxson has been in the league since 2006, but has bounced around clubs -- he didn't record his first regular season stats until last year with the Browns when he had 22 combined tackles, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hits, and 1 fumble recovery. Those statistics came as a rotational player, as he did not start any games during the season. Paxson might be good as a rotational player, but he could be a liability as a regular starter. Ideally, a guy like John Hughes or Billy Winn will look really good in camp to get the starting nod. If not, it's doubtful that any one player sees a ton of snaps as the starter until Taylor returns.

Final Roster Odds: 80%



In our next preview for defensive linemen, we'll take a look at all of the backups. Let's get to the poll: what type of season will Jabaal Sheard have in his sophomore year?

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Dawgs By Nature

You must be a member of Dawgs By Nature to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Dawgs By Nature. You should read them.

Join Dawgs By Nature

You must be a member of Dawgs By Nature to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Dawgs By Nature. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9341_tracker