BEREA: In his first season as the Browns’ defensive coordinator, Dick Jauron orchestrated a respectable transition to his 4-3 scheme despite the NFL lockout wiping out virtually the entire offseason.
The defense certainly wasn’t perfect last year after Jauron succeeded Rob Ryan and spearheaded a conversion from the Browns’ old 3-4 system, but it showed promise. Jauron’s men struggled against the run (ranked 30th, 147.4 yards allowed per game), performed well against the pass (ranked second, 184.9 yards allowed per game) and finished 10th overall (184.9 yards allowed per game).
As the Browns wrapped up their three-day mandatory minicamp Thursday afternoon, Jauron shared his vision for the defense in an interview with the Beacon Journal. He believes veteran ends Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker, both of whom signed with the Browns as free agents in March, and five drafted rookies will aid improvement.
“We’re in a much better position,” Jauron said. “It’s just a very, very tough league and a very tough division. So we’ve got to get a lot better fast and find ways to win more games.”
To do his part in trying to spark a turnaround after the Browns went 4-12 last season, Jauron must put his players in the best position to succeed. His plans for how all the pieces will fit together won’t be finalized until later this summer, but Jauron has ideas about what the finished product might look like.
When starting strongside linebacker Scott Fujita missed the final five games last season with a broken hand, starting weakside linebacker Chris Gocong moved to the strong side and Kaluka Maiava entered the starting lineup on the weak side. If Fujita’s three-game suspension for his alleged role in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal is upheld, Jauron said he plans to insert Maiava again.
“It’s no different than it was a year ago,” Jauron said. “Kaluka’s really a good football player, and I don’t have any qualms about him stepping right in and playing. He’s as tough as they come, and he works very hard at it.”
Even though Jauron said that’s his stance now, he conceded rookies James-Michael Johnson, a fourth-round pick, and Emmanuel Acho, a sixth-round pick, could change his mind.
“Every position is going to be open for competition, so nobody knows what’s going to happen when you go to training camp,” Jauron said. “The veterans hold the positions. They work hard. The odds are they’ll hold it, but there’s no law that says they have to.”
Eric Hagg, a seventh-round pick in 2011, has practiced at free safety with the first-team defense throughout organized team activities and minicamp. Jauron conceded Hagg is on the right path toward securing the starting job.
“We’re happy with Eric,” Jauron said. “ … I really like his intensity, really like his study habits, how into the game he is. I think he’s a really good teammate. He’s done a good job for us right now on the field.”
Jauron said cornerback Dimitri Patterson will “absolutely” be considered for a starting role after spending last season as the team’s nickel corner. However, Jauron believes cornerback Sheldon Brown is capable of holding on to his starting job in his 11th NFL season.
“There’s no reason to doubt him,” Jauron said of Brown. “He’s certainly done it every other year he’s been in the league, and there’s not a lot of guys that do it that well and that long. So you’ve got to believe that he will.”
Buster Skrine and rookie Trevin Wade, a seventh-round pick, will get chances at nickel corner, Jauron said.
Although Jauron believes Rucker, who’s penciled in as the starting right end, will help the defense improve against the run, losing tackle Phil Taylor hurts. Taylor, the 21st overall pick in 2011, tore his left pectoral muscle last month, had surgery and will be sidelined until at least late October, though he could be out for the entire season.
“It was a big blow,” Jauron said. “I feel badly for us and the organization. I feel badly for Phil, who really worked in the offseason, came back in shape, ready to go and was excited about it.”
Still, Jauron thinks the Browns are better equipped to fill the void than they would have been last season. He named rookies John Hughes, a third-round pick, Billy Winn, a sixth-round pick, and veterans Scott Paxson and Brian Schaefering, who’s recovering from surgery for a sports hernia, as candidates to start in place of Taylor.
“We’re better,” Jauron said. “We’re deeper. We drafted two guys. We think they’ll both end up playing in this league. Pax is a proven veteran. Schaefering will be back for training camp.”
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 at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.