BEREA: Browns defensive end Jabaal Sheard would love to have gobbled up a few more quarterbacks by now.
But as the Browns (2-7) enjoy their bye week before visiting the Dallas Cowboys Nov. 18, Sheard, a second-round pick in the 2011 draft out of Pittsburgh, knows some of the reasons for his drop in production are beyond his control.
As a rookie, Sheard started all 16 games and had 55 tackles (39 solo) and team-highs in sacks (8.5) and forced fumbles (five), a fumble recovery and two pass breakups. His sack total led all rookie linemen.
This season, the 6-foot-2, 255-pound Sheard has started all nine games at left end and has 29 tackles (including three for loss), 1.5 sacks and four passes defensed.
Part of the reason for Sheard’s lack of statistical production is that he’s drawing more attention from opponents than he did as a rookie looking to prove his worth.
“This year I feel like I’m getting a little bit more of the slide, with three guys coming toward me,” Sheard said. “With the slide coming my way, I rarely get a one-on-one with a tackle.”
Sheard said only during the Browns’ two losses to the Baltimore Ravens has he been blocked one-on-one.
“I think he’s a little bit of a target in terms of he’s an outstanding pass rusher,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “Teams can do things where they tip the protection his way. As we get better at rushing the passer in all four spots there up front, I think you’ll see his production start to go up again. In the meantime, I still feel like he’s battling and he’s contributing in a pretty significant way.”
Another reason for Sheard’s drop in numbers is that defensive tackle Phil Taylor missed the first eight games with a torn pectoral muscle suffered in the offseason. Without the presence of Taylor, the 6-foot-3, 355-pound first-round pick in 2011, opponents have been able to game-plan more around Sheard.
When Taylor played in his first game of the season Sunday against the visiting Ravens, Sheard enjoyed his best game this season even though Taylor played fewer than half the snaps. Sheard had a season-best eight tackles, including a half sack of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco shared with Juqua Parker.
“With Phil back, they kind of played it pretty straight based on the way they tried to block us,” said Shurmur, who noted that Sheard has also played much better against the run than he did as a rookie.
That’s why few were as excited for Taylor’s return last week than Sheard.
“Having Phil back was a big part of my success last week,” Sheard said. “Even though they were sliding toward us, when Big Phil’s in there, he takes up two people. So, it’s like one-on-one on the outside.”
But Sheard isn’t shying away from accepting any personal responsibility for his low statistical output.
“I have to take some of the blame, too,” he said. “There’s been games also where I struggled and just beat my dude when I had the chance.”
Sheard’s situation should continue to improve when 6-foot-2, 330-pound defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin returns from a calf injury suffered Oct. 7 against the New York Giants.
Not only does the defensive line miss Rubin’s smart and energetic play (even with rookies Billy Winn and John Hughes filling in admirably), but Sheard hasn’t been able to get into a set routine with the new young guys.
“You may have a guy that rushes high and you gotta know the inside guy,” he said. “If he rushes high, you can play off of him and sometimes come in underneath. [It helps] to be on the same page with your guy. For me, it’s usually big Rube.”
Despite the numbers being down from Sheard’s rookie season, defensive coordinator Dick Jauron has been just as pleased with his efforts.
“I have no problems with Jabaal Sheard and the way he plays the game,” Jauron said after the first five games of the season. “He’s a special player. Sometimes you get the [sack] numbers, sometimes you don’t. [Sacks] aren’t as indicative of his play as one might think.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.