BEREA: This year, the Browns spent their first two draft picks on defensive linemen for the first time in franchise history. It’s paying off already.
Tackle Phil Taylor, a first-round selection (21st overall), and end Jabaal Sheard, a second-round pick (37th overall), made their presence felt Sunday in the Browns’ 27-19 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Tackle Ahtyba Rubin and end Jayme Mitchell did as well.
“They’re all being very disruptive, and that’s what we’re gonna need,” linebacker Scott Fujita said Monday. “That’s where the youth, I think, can help you. Guys are fast. They have a lot of quick twitch. They’re aggressive to the ball.
“The thing I like about the young guy Jabaal Sheard, he’s going after the quarterback every single play. Trying to get a hand on his arm, trying to disrupt the flow of the passing game, and that’s gonna pay off well for us.”
Sheard and Mitchell converged on Colts quarterback Kerry Collins late in the fourth quarter. Sheard was credited with a strip-sack and a fumble recovery that set up a field goal. Rubin also had a sack, and Taylor recorded five tackles and batted down a pass.
“You can’t do anything offensively or defensively unless your lines hold the point and dominate,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “I think those guys are getting to the point where they are playing well as a unit and then you are seeing them be able to make some plays on their own.”
Sheard and Mitchell switched positions against the Colts. Sheard played left end, and Mitchell played on the right side. Shurmur said he expects the change to become permanent.
Mitchell said he has never played right end before, but he has embraced the adjustment. He’s just happy the experiment helped the defense rebound from its fourth-quarter blunder in a season-opening loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
“We know we should have won that one last week [against the Bengals],” Mitchell said. “We know we gave it away, let it slip away on some nonsense. But it always feels great to get a win.”
Former Browns coach Sam Rutigliano congratulated Shurmur on Monday during the start of the latter’s news conference. On Sunday, Shurmur won his first game as an NFL head coach.
“When you win, the air breathes cleaner,” Shurmur said. “The water tastes better. Everything is better when you win, and I think that’s what we all long to do.”
The players gave Shurmur a game ball following the win in Indianapolis.
“I still have it,” Shurmur said. “I don’t carry it around with me, but I will cherish it for sure.”
Running back Montario Hardesty didn’t receive a carry until the fourth quarter. He finished with three carries, including two in a goal-line situation, for 1 yard and a fumble, which the Browns recovered.
“This is something I need to do a better job of,” Shurmur said. “I wanted to get [Hardesty] in the game at some point, [but] I wish we could have got him in the game sooner because he needs to play. Peyton [Hillis] is a bruising-style runner that needs a little bit of relief at times, and I think that’s what we’ll try to do a better job of next time.”
Strong safety T.J. Ward has had some difficult assignments early this season. He had a rough time covering Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham, who caught six passes for 58 yards and a touchdown.
But Ward helped limit Colts tight end Dallas Clark to four catches for 32 yards. Clark scored a touchdown with 24 seconds left in the game.
“I’ve always thought I was one of the better cover safeties, even in college and still now,” Ward said. “You compare me to any safety, and I think my cover skills are right there with some of the best. But for some reason — I guess me being a tackler, a big hitter — [people believe] I can’t cover. But I never fell into that trap.”
Tight end Alex Smith received significant playing time against the Colts. Smith, who’s primarily known as a blocker, finished with three catches for 19 yards.
“I like to just think I can do a little bit of everything,” Smith said. “I don’t try and hone in on one specific skill. I feel like I’ve improved in my run blocking over the years. Before I was all about catching. Now as I’ve gotten older, I’m starting to develop a little better technique, and I still think I can get down the field a little bit whenever I’m needed to. I just try to bring a complete game to the field, and if that helps us win, I’m all for it.”
Wide receiver Brian Robiskie has yet to catch a pass through the first two games of the regular season. But Shurmur said, “I’m not down on Brian. I think he competed well, so we’ll see how the numbers work out.” … Offensive lineman Artis Hicks started at right tackle, and Oniel Cousins replaced him late in the first half. “Neither one of them probably played much better than the other,” Shurmur said. “But I feel good about the progress they’re making.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at browns.ohio.com.