BEREA: The Browns could switch from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 scheme, but it seems even more likely they would rather wrap both of those systems into one.
New Browns coach Rob Chudzinski has an offensive background, and he strives for innovation on that side of the ball. But he made it clear Friday during his introductory news conference that he wants his defense to be cutting edge, too.
“Whether that’s a 4-3 or a 3-4 and nowadays there’s a lot of hybrid systems out there, it will tie in more with the coordinator that I hire,” said Chudzinski, who spent the past two seasons as the offensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers. “I think we have the versatility of going either way.”
In other words, defensive coordinator Dick Jauron is not expected to return. Employing Jauron’s 4-3 system for the past two seasons, the Browns’ defense ranked 23rd in 2012 (332.4 yards allowed per game) and 10th in 2011 (363.8 yards allowed per game).
Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is reportedly set to interview for the Jaguars’ coaching vacancy next week, but he could be a candidate to reunite with Chudzinski in Cleveland as the Browns’ defensive coordinator. Chudzinski was the Browns’ offensive coordinator from 2007-08, and Tucker was their defensive backs coach from 2005-07 before being promoted to defensive coordinator in 2008.
But no matter whom Chudzinski hires as his top defensive lieutenant, Browns CEO Joe Banner supports the idea of using a hybrid defense. Chudzinski has been associated with all three types of schemes.
“This is what Chud said to us and frankly this was consistent with all the interviews we did,” Banner said. “Every offensive coach we interviewed we asked them, ‘What is the most difficult thing to play against?’ And the answer in all of those cases was these hybrid, 4-3, 3-4 [schemes], which made it more difficult to know what you were going to be against on any given play.
“So I think it’s clear to say that’s the way the league is headed. We happen to be lucky to think we have a significant number of players that can fit into either a 4-3 or 3-4 and then leave the coordinator the option of being one of these hybrids or committing to either direction.”
Former Browns General Manager Tom Heckert, who was fired Dec. 31 along with coach Pat Shurmur, spent most of the past two seasons overhauling the roster to accommodate a switch from a 3-4 defense. But Banner insists a drastic makeover won’t be needed to convert to the Browns’ next defensive system.
“Whichever we play — and I think you should pay attention closely to Rob’s [comments] that there are a lot of hybrid defenses out there right now that actually kind of go back and forth depending upon the down, distance, circumstance and opponent — I think either system we play there’s additional needs of talent to add to the defense to get it to the quality we want,” Banner said. “But neither would require a massive revamping of the talent we have.”
Another search in works
Banner said he and owner Jimmy Haslam have started to meet with candidates to head the Browns’ personnel department and will continue to do so with Chudzinski’s assistance.
Chudzinski said he will share final say on roster decisions.
“We’re going to share that responsibility,” he said. “I just feel so good about the group that we are here with today that all those things we will be able to work together well on.”
Banner said a group — he, Chudzinski, Haslam and a personnel executive or two — will collaborate to make decisions about the draft, free agency and trades. He said Chudzinski will play a major role in personnel decisions.
“He’ll be very involved in them,” Banner said. “First off, he will totally drive the what are we looking for, what are the skill sets, what are the qualities and characteristics we’re looking for in every player at every position. He won’t even be involved — he will dictate that.
“After that, he’ll be part of, we keep describing this group of three, four, five people that will do all the work and ultimately make the decisions on exactly who to pick or trade for or not trade for or those kinds of things. He’ll be a very integral part of the [draft, free agency and trades], and he’ll be determinant in the [deciding the types of players we’ll target].”
Haslam and Banner did not set a specific timetable for hiring a personnel chief. They will not comment on candidates or interviews during their search.
Candidates reportedly on the Browns’ radar are NFL Network analyst and former personnel man Michael Lombardi, Seattle Seahawks vice president of football administration John Idzik, Kansas City Chiefs director of pro personnel Ray Farmer, Minnesota Vikings assistant general manager George Paton and San Francisco 49ers director of player personnel Tom Gamble.
Banner denied that Lombardi had any involvement in the Browns’ coaching search.
“Mike hasn’t been involved,” Banner said. “I pick brains of a lot of people and call lots of people [and say], ‘Do you know so and so?’ I’m not going to get into who exactly I did that with. I did it with a lot of people.”
Haslam and Banner said they wanted to hire a coach first and then find a personnel man who complements him because the coach will play a larger role in the organization.
Mum on players
When asked about Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden, Chudzinski declined to discuss specific players until he had watched all 16 games with his new staff.
“I think there are some pieces here,” Chudzinski said. “Once we get the staff together we will be going through the personnel in detail. I’ve had a chance to watch a few games, not a lot.”
Asked if he would adapt his offense to the players or the other way around, Chudzinski said, “It’s both. But my philosophy is you have to put [the players] in the best possible position. The past two years with [quarterback] Cam Newton, we did some things I’ve never done before.
“That’s what I was talking about, pushing the envelope, being innovative in those situations and putting them in the position to make plays and go be the players they are.”
On the move
As Chudzinski spoke Friday with assistants on Shurmur’s staff, defensive assistant Chuck Bullough was named defensive coordinator at Syracuse University, new Orange coach Scott Shafer announced. Bullough held the same job at UCLA before joining the Browns in 2011.
Adam Caplan of TheSidelineView.com tweeted that Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pedersen mentioned Browns offensive line coach George Warhop and offensive coordinator Brad Childress on a conference call Friday. Childress is possibly in line for senior offensive assistant, according to Caplan.
Former Browns coach Pat Shurmur is a candidate for the vacant offensive coordinator job with the Panthers, the Charlotte Observer reported. NFL Network reported the Panthers have also asked for permission to interview Bengals assistant coach Hue Jackson for the vacancy created by the Browns’ hiring of Chudzinski. … Haslam said Chudzinski was from Canton during the opening remarks of his introductory news conference. Before the 42-minute session ended, Haslam realized his error and correctly referred to Toledo.
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.