When the Cleveland Browns drafted defensive tackles John Hughes and Billy Winn in the third- and sixth-rounds, respectively, it seemed as though they would contribute as depth players right away. Now that starter Phil Taylor is projected to miss a significant amount of time, and possibly the entire season, should the Browns give those rookies a chance at starting, or bring in a veteran to help replace Taylor for the year?
Last year, when the Browns lost Eric Steinbach during the preseason, they inserted Jason Pinkston, a fifth-round draft pick, into the starting lineup for the entire season. That might be easy when you've got veteran Pro Bowlers like Joe Thomas and Alex Mack beside you, but what happens when you're asked to step in on a defensive line that is young and struggled to defend the run in 2011?
At a luncheon in Canton on Monday, head coach Pat Shurmur talked about the possibility of Hughes contributing right away, and whether they would consider bringing in a veteran player:
"Unfortunately with what happened to Phil Taylor, John’s gonna have to step it up and be a quicker part of what we do," Shurmur said. … "We’re not gonna plug him in. He’s gonna have to get in there and compete with the other defensive tackles to win that spot. If he ends up being the guy, he’s obviously not as big as Phil. But I really believe he can create pass rush inside and play well against the run."
"We’ll continue to look at a veteran really at any position," he said. "And we’ll know about how it all fits once we can get into the OTAs, and they’re all out there working together."
If the Browns do decide that they would like to bring a veteran in, there isn't a very large field to choose from. You've got Albert Haynesworth, but I'd give a definite "no thanks" there. Former Broncos defensive tackle Marcus Thomas, 26, was looking for a multi-year deal from Denver but did not get it. Denver appeared to move on from him based on the way they drafted, but Cleveland seems more like a fit for a guy wanting a one-year deal. A veteran run-stuffer like Kelley Gregg is available, but has traditionally played in a 3-4 defense.
The two most attractive options to Cleveland might be Fred Robbins and Tommie Harris. Robbins was with the Rams the past two years, meaning he had some overlap with Shurmur. Likewise, Harris was with the Bears with Dick Jauron was there, so there's some overlap there too. Both players are at the closing stages of their career, but could probably help out in defending the run.
What do you think? Should the Browns sign a veteran defensive tackle to be a part of the rotation, or should they stick exclusively with the youth movement in this case?