BEREA: Coach Mike Pettine had Super Mario at his disposal last season when he was the defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills. Now that he’s in charge of the Browns, Pettine is hoping to be armed with Super Sheard.
Outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard should receive a chance to produce a breakout season under the guidance of his new coach. Sheard expects to adopt the same role three-time Pro Bowler Mario Williams had in Pettine’s 3-4, hybrid scheme last season. After signing a six-year, $96 million contract two years ago, Williams led the Bills this past season with 13 of their franchise-record 57 sacks.
“With this scheme I’m a little bit more of a defensive end, so I get to rush a little bit more,” Sheard said after practice in mandatory minicamp. … “More like Mario. They paid him a lot of money, so you know they got him going after the quarterback.”
The 6-foot-2, 270-pound Sheard has led the Browns in sacks each season since they drafted him in the second round (No. 37 overall) out of the University of Pittsburgh in 2011. He had 8½ sacks as a rookie, seven in 2012 and 5½ last season despite missing three games with a sprained left knee.
Now Sheard is on the verge of entering the final season of his rookie four-year, $5.09 million contract. He said the Browns have talked about extending his deal, and he hopes to stay in Cleveland.
In the meantime, Sheard seems to think he could be in line for the best season of his career because of the way Pettine plans to use him.
“He’s been impressive,” Pettine said. “He was a guy that we liked coming out of Pitt. I was very encouraged from watching the film from last year. We talk about the ‘play like a Brown’ attributes, and we want a guy that plays like his hair is on fire. If I had to pick one guy that fits that, the first name I would come up with is Jabaal.
“He’s versatile. I think we can move him around. He can play with his hand down. He can play up. His drop skills are more than adequate, and he plays violent. It’s tough for him in [June minicamp] when it’s no pads. I think he’ll show up even better when we have the pads on and his physicality will be much better used.”
Sheard played defensive end in a 4-3 system his entire life until former Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton converted him to a 3-4 outside linebacker last year. Because of the constant turnover the franchise has endured, Pettine is Sheard’s third NFL coach. The silver lining is that Pettine’s system might be the best fit for Sheard yet.
“It just creates more opportunities looking at this defense rather than the one last year,” Sheard said. “I was definitely an outside linebacker. It was a little bit of a challenge, but I think I was getting the hang of it. Due to my injury, I didn’t get to stick in it so long. But I think this [scheme] will complement our whole defense, not just me.”
Although Sheard will remain an outside linebacker under the guidance of Pettine and new defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil, he will have far fewer responsibilities in pass coverage.
“That’s what I’m excited by the most,” Sheard said. “I’m doing a lot more rushing and getting after the quarterback. I ain’t got to worry about dropping back because we’ve got a great secondary back there that can handle all that with man-to-man pressure.
“I’m 270 [pounds], man. [When] you get out there with those little guys, it gets kind of tough out there. Their quickness — that’s their [advantage] on me. I didn’t really like [dropping into coverage]. I’d rather rush.”
Sheard has started all 45 games in which he has appeared. He and Paul Kruger are projected to start again this season with Barkevious Mingo, the sixth overall pick in last year’s draft, rotating into the lineup.
Each of them is expected to improve from last season, but it’s no secret that the new coaching staff has identified Sheard as the biggest difference maker.
“He’s just a tough, every-down type of guy who can knock your teeth out if he needs to,” Kruger said of Sheard. “So I think he’s going to have a lot of success in this scheme.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.