Editor’s note: This is the second part of a weeklong series about Browns players who are expected to vie for starting jobs or other important roles during training camp, which opens to the public Saturday in Berea.
BATTLES OF BEREA: DEFENSIVE TACKLES
Players to watch: Scott Paxson (6-foot-4, 290 pounds, third year); John Hughes (6-2, 320 pounds, rookie); Billy Winn (6-4, 295 pounds, rookie); and Brian Schaefering (6-4, 295 pounds, third year).
2011 stats: Paxson (21 tackles, three for loss and a sack, one pass defensed, one fumble recovery); Hughes (at Cincinnati — 51 tackles, 12½ for loss and five sacks, one pass defensed, one blocked field goal); Winn (at Boise State — 33 tackles, eight for loss and three sacks, one fumble recovery, one pass defensed); Schaefering (29 tackles and a half sack).
Analysis: The competition for a starting job opened in May, when Phil Taylor tore his left pectoral while lifting weights. The earliest he’ll be able to play again, if all goes well, is late October. The loss of Taylor, the 21st overall pick in the 2011 draft, is a significant blow. Fortunately, the Browns drafted two defensive tackles this year, netting Hughes in the third round and Winn in the sixth. Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said those two will compete against Paxson and Schaefering for a starting role alongside Ahtyba Rubin. Paxson, 29, has spent most of his career on practice squads and was out of football in 2010 before catching on last season with the Browns. He took the majority of first-team reps during organized team activities and minicamp. Schaefering played more end than tackle last season. He sat out OTAs and minicamp while recovering from surgery for a sports hernia, but Jauron expects him back for training camp. Schaefering started nine games in 2010, when the Browns still used a 3-4 defense, but neither he nor Paxson started last season in Jauron’s 4-3 system. In other words, the door is open for the rookies.
Ulrich’s take: Paxson played in only one NFL game before appearing in 16 last season at age 28. He’s hardly a starting-caliber player. Of the four in this competition, Hughes should be the front-runner if he can conquer the learning curve. Not only did the Browns use a third-round pick on him, a decision for which they took heat, but he also looks like a tackle. Paxson, Schaefering and Winn are smaller and have some experience playing end as a result. Hughes won’t produce like the 6-3, 335-pound Taylor, but if General Manager Tom Heckert is right about him, he should be a respectable run-stopper.
Coming Tuesday: Linebackers