By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Ahtyba Rubin has excelled as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense and as a traditional defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme. Now he’s aiming to thrive as an end while the Browns convert to a 3-4, multi-front, attacking system employed by new defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
So what’s next for Rubin, the defensive line’s quiet but formidable jack-of-all trades?
“I would like to be a tight end. That’s my dream — to catch a couple touchdowns,” Rubin, who has lined up primarily at left end throughout training camp, said with a smile. “But, no, I mean they put me wherever they want to put me at, and I probably can adjust. I’m just happy to be on the team. They kept me around for this long. I’ll just keep getting my coaching in and be in the film room and see how it goes on Sundays.”
The Browns have kept Rubin through several regime changes, a testament to his tenacious style and versatility. If there’s anyone who epitomizes Horton’s “big men that can run” mantra, it’s the 6-foot-2, 330-pound Rubin.
“The impressive thing about him is he’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen for a guy that size,” Browns right offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. “After the play, everyone runs to the ball and you see big Rube sprinting after the ball 30 yards down the field — that’s every play. His energy level for a guy that big and that strong is just impressive.”
A sixth-round draft pick of the Browns in 2008, Rubin has had four head coaches during his NFL career — Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur and now Rob Chudzinski. Six-time Pro Bowl offensive left tackle Joe Thomas and inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson are the only players who have been with the Browns longer than Rubin.
“I’m just a football player, and I want to play,” Rubin said. “I guess it shows to the other coaches that come in here through the years. I’m trying to pick up everything. I’m trying to hustle my butt off to make plays, and they’ve been seeing that. And hopefully I stay around here for a long time.
“I can’t worry about the coaches coming in and out. I’m just showing the new staff that I really want to win. Everybody’s buying in and everybody’s believing and competing. You can’t compare the [previous] coaches to this coach because it’s a totally different feeling.”
In 2011, the organization’s previous regime signed Rubin to a three-year, $27 million contract extension with $18 million guaranteed. But after being rewarded with a new deal, Rubin, who is under contract through the 2014 season, had a disappointing 2012 season as he dealt with groin and calf injuries. He played in 13 games and had 44 tackles after compiling 83 in 2011 and 82 in 2010.
But he’s healthy now and determined to conquer another position change.
“It’s very different,” Rubin said of playing end in a 3-4. “You’re a lot farther off the ball. You’ve got more opportunities to get that one-on-one [matchup], so you can get to the quarterback instead of just sticking in there and getting double-teamed all day. So it’s an advantage.”
During pass rushing and blocking drills Thursday, Rubin shot between a double team from offensive tackle Rashad Butler and rookie guard Garrett Gilkey to earn a virtual sack. Those types of plays give Chudzinski confidence that Rubin can make a successful transition.
“Rubin’s a self-made player,” Chudzinski said. “He’s relentless. He’s a high-effort guy. He’s going to do whatever you ask him to do, and he never complains. He goes at this thing with a lot of passion and desire. Whatever you ask him, whether it’s playing nose tackle, whether it’s playing defensive end, three-technique, five-technique, whatever it is, he will adjust to get it done. He’s a guy you can count on.”
Back in action
Wide receiver Josh Gordon returned to practice Thursday after missing one-and-a-half practices while dealing with patellar tendinitis in his knee. Gordon participated in team drills on a limited basis.
“He got back out there for individual [drills],” Chudzinski said. “I saw him in one-on-ones and a little bit of limited team [drills]. He’s feeling better, and hopefully he continues to go that direction.”
Gordon, the Browns’ No. 1 receiver who’s suspended for the first two regular-season games of the year after violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, was pulled from team drills Monday because his knee was bothering him. The Browns did not practice Tuesday, but he sat out when they resumed action Wednesday.
Chudzinski said Gordon’s condition did not warrant an MRI.
Wide receiver David Nelson felt discomfort in his surgically repaired right knee during individual drills Thursday and removed himself from the action.
Nelson unwrapped the knee and rubbed it. He remained on the field but did not participate in the rest of practice.
“David Nelson was just running routes earlier in practice and just felt his knee a little bit,” Chudzinski said. “I don’t think that’ll be anything major, but we’ll get that checked and report back tomorrow with you.”
As a member of the Buffalo Bills, Nelson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last year during the Sept. 9 season opener against the New York Jets.
Nelson was wearing a wrap on his right knee after practice.
In drills pitting offensive linemen against defensive linemen, defensive end Brian Sanford pulled Gilkey’s hair, ripped off his helmet and flung it after Gilkey drove him to the ground and then tried to trip him after he got up. Sanford seems to be involved in a skirmish just about every day.
“He’s a scrappy guy,” Chudzinski said of Sanford. “He’s very competitive. He’s a full-speed-every-snap guy. He’s been productive in his pass rushes. He’s a guy that is out there competing and trying to make a move.”
In the same session, nose tackle Phil Taylor shoved centers Alex Mack and Braxston Cave after the drill had ended.
Chudzinski said the players will wear pads Saturday during the team’s Family Night practice at FirstEnergy Stadium. The practice is scheduled to run from 6:30-9 p.m. … SportsTime Ohio and the Browns reached a new multi-year television agreement, the station and team announced Thursday.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.