INDIANAPOLIS: Browns CEO Joe Banner wants an aggressive, intimidating defense known for terrorizing opposing quarterbacks with pressure, but he conceded the front seven must be bolstered to create that identity.
“The defensive front [seven] needs some additions to be able to compete with the best in the league,” Banner told local reporters Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine.
There will be plenty of outside linebacker prospects available in the draft who could boost the pass-rush threat the Browns hope defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s 3-4 multi-front scheme exhibits. Most draft analysts expect the Browns to target a rush linebacker with the sixth overall pick, and Banner’s assertion that the organization is not focused on pursuing a quarterback early in the draft seems to support such theories.
But Oregon defensive end/outside linebacker Dion Jordan and Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, two potential targets of the Browns, will enter the draft with questions surrounding their health.
The 6-foot-6½, 248-pound Jordan revealed Saturday at the combine that he’ll undergo shoulder surgery next week to repair a torn labrum he suffered Oct. 27 against Colorado. Jordan said he’ll need to rehabilitate for three to four months.
“I only missed one game last season,” said Jordan, who plans to work out Monday at the combine but won’t bench press. “I dealt with it, and I feel like it shows my toughness that I finished the season. I stayed true to my team and I made sure as a leader, as a senior of our team, it shows I’m willing to win and do what it takes to compete.”
Jones’ ailment was well documented before the combine. In 2009, he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis after suffering a neck injury while playing for Southern California, whose doctors would not clear him to return. He transferred to Georgia the following year and eventually resumed his career.
“I have a slight narrowing in my spine between the C4 and C5 [vertebrae],” Jones said. … “But most of the doctors checked me out and feel that I’m fine. I don’t have any contusion or anything like that in it.”
The 6-3, 245-pound Jones said he chose not to work out at the combine because his main focus was to allow NFL medical personnel to evaluate him. He said he had MRIs and underwent testing all day Saturday.
“I saw a lot of doctors today and they weren’t too concerned about what they saw,” said Jones, who added he met with the Browns at the combine. “They thought I was fine. I don’t know how people, how the coaches feel about taking me, but I think I’m fine. I heard a lot of good news today. So I’m excited.”
Is Jones’ medical history a deal breaker in terms of using the No. 6 pick on him?
“We will put a lot of weight in the recommendations from our medical staff on any player, whether it’s a particular serious injury or whether it’s just a history of a lot of small injuries,” Banner said. “You want to try to get as many players as you can that you can be optimistic are going to be healthy and there every week. Our draft meetings will include our medical staff and they’ll weigh in and give us their evaluation of every player we’re considering, and that will matter. We will put a grade for durability on every player in free agency and the draft, and that will be a factor in what we do.”
Jordan, Jones, Brigham Young’s Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, Florida State’s Bjoern Werner and Louisiana State’s Barkevious Mingo all said they could play outside linebacker in a 3-4 system. Jones, though, admitted he’s more comfortable in a 4-3. Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore, another top defensive end/outside linebacker prospect, didn’t address the media Saturday.
The bottom line is the Browns could pursue plenty of prospects who would likely be able to help them transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 hybrid scheme.
Banner said the new regime chose to switch defenses because it wasn’t satisfied with the production or style of former defensive coordinator Dick Jauron’s system.
“I think we felt like the defense wasn’t good enough to be very direct about it,” Banner said. “If you went into some of the more sophisticated breakdowns of the defense this year … we were ranked 20 or lower in most of those categories.
“We want to be risk-takers. We want to be attacking. We want the other team to be on the defensive. It doesn’t mean it was wrong, but that wasn’t the scheme we were running, so this felt like it fit more the type of players we want to bring in and the mind-set we want to create, the way we want our opponents to perceive us. We want them to be worried about where we’re kind of coming from and what’s going to happen.”
Other draft options
Banner said it’s hard to know whether the Browns will try to trade up or down or stay put at No. 6 until free agency unfolds.
“My history has been more trading down than up or staying,” he said.
The Browns don’t have a second-round pick this year because former General Manager Tom Heckert used it this past summer to select wide receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft. Banner said having only six picks makes him reluctant to trade any selections.
He’s also hesitant to call Gordon a good pick at this point.
“It’s to be determined,” Banner said. “I think Josh has to keep working hard and improving. I’d be surprised if Josh didn’t say there were things he was doing well and things he could be doing better. A top-of-the-second-round pick on a wide receiver you would hope by the second or third year you’d have big, big impact player. I think he still has improvements you could make and there’s hope that he can do that. He’s still got to grow and work hard in order to answer that question.”
Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner is the top-rated cornerback in the draft, and the Browns are in the market for a starting corner.
But when Banner was asked whether corner was the team’s top need, he said: “We’re not going rush and make a mistake because we have a need and leave ourselves in a position where we have to solve the same problem twice. We do have an order of what we’d like to solve if the world falls the way we want it to. But if it doesn’t, we’re not going to force it just so that we’re not going into this season with some glaring hole when its really going to hurt us with where we want to be two, three years from now.”
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock believes Alabama guard Chance Warmack is the best player in the draft and too good to pass despite his position.
When asked if No. 6 is too high to take a guard, Banner said: “I mean if you knew he was John Hannah I guess maybe not, but it wouldn’t fit. I wouldn’t rule anything out, but it wouldn’t philosophically fit with how we’re approaching the priorities and how we’re building the team.”
Banner said the Browns know whether they’ll try to re-sign some of their own free agents, including kicker Phil Dawson and returner Josh Cribbs, but he won’t reveal their plans.
“Let’s say we’re trying to sign them and I told you we want to bring them back — that certainly wouldn’t be a very smart thing from a negotiating perspective,” Banner said. “If we weren’t, we don’t need to tell the other teams who’s going to be free or not free any earlier than necessary.”
Banner said the Browns won’t use a franchise tag to keep any of their players off the open market. He expects to be active in free agency partly because the organization inherited ample salary-cap room.
“I view this as a good year to be in the free-agent market and to be able to get fair market value,” Banner said.
Banner said he doesn’t think the new regime needs to gut the roster. He doesn’t foresee any other starters from last season being cut like defensive end Frostee Rucker was three weeks ago.
He also doesn’t expect to trade anyone.
“I would not expect at this point and time that we’re going to be receptive to trading our players,” Banner said. “We’re looking to build on the players we have and take this thing to a higher level over some period of time.”
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.