BEREA: The Browns’ defensive line will be vital to their success as they continue to transition from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4, multifront system.
Joe Cullen, whose resume includes 29 years of coaching experience with a recent three-year stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars, was brought hired this offseason to direct the linemen. Before joining the Jaguars, he coached defensive line at Idaho State after a controversial stint with the Detroit Lions from 2006-2008, when alcohol-related issues stalled his professional career.
Police charged Cullen with indecent and obscene conduct for driving naked through a Wendy’s drive-thru in Dearborn, Mich. Eight days later he was charged with drunk driving in Michigan, which drew a $20,000 fine and a one-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the league. He received two years’ probation from a judge in 2007 and was ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous twice weekly. He participated in the NFL-sponsored alcohol outpatient rehabilitation program from September 2006 to July 2007.
As much as Cullen’s football experience will benefit his linemen, his life experiences could also help free-agent acquisition Desmond Bryant and Armonty Bryant, a seventh-round pick in this year’s draft. Both defensive ends had offseason arrests involving alcohol.
Cullen took a few moments to talk to the Beacon Journal after the final day of the team’s three-day minicamp Thursday afternoon.
Q: I’m wondering if your past experiences, when you see both the Bryants — Desmond and Armonty — making the mistakes they made off the field in the offseason, does that make you want to take them under your wing?
A: I think obviously we all learn from mistakes — everybody — and if there is someone I can help because of a certain situation I’ve been through in my life, I’d obviously definitely do that.
Q: Is that part of the role of being a teacher?
A: Absolutely. We are teachers in the classroom. We’re teachers on the football field and there’s no game, to me, that teaches the game of life better than this game right here. You have adversity every day. Adversity hits you on the field. You’re going to be down. Are you going to lay down or are you going to get up? Stuff happens. It’s how you react to it. I think both those guys have done a great job, and it’s full steam ahead.
Q: How have your starting linemen — nose tackle Phil Taylor and ends Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant — looked so far, given that they’ve all had changes in positions?
A: Really good. First of all, you can always go back 4-3, 3-4. I know this: You have to play a shade of a body, and Phil Taylor has played that his whole career. He’s done a great job. He’s going to be our nose tackle. Ahtyba Rubin is going to be a nose tackle/left [end]. In our scheme, sometimes the left end is the tackle, just based on what the formation is when we go to a certain part of the defense. Desmond has played all four spots across the front so he’s not out of position if you look back at all the Oakland [Raiders] tape. He played one technique, he played three technique, he played head up. It’s really not anything new there. I think they’ve done a great job, and the backups have done a great job. It’s a great group to work with.
Q: Is there a big difference between the nose tackle in the 3-4 and the defensive tackle in the 4-3?
A: There’s a little bit of difference, but at the end of the day, football is football. You have to play with fundamentals. You have to play with a base. You have to play with your hands and you have to make sure you’re lower than the guy you’re going with, so it’s not much different.
Q: How are they adjusting so far?
A: They’ve put in the work so far and they’re going to continue to put the work in. They’ve done a great job.
Q: Is it difficult going from defensive tackle to end like Rubin?
A: If you’re on an offensive tackle or a guard, you’re playing the same guy to me. They’re both off the ball. They’re both about the same size. It’s really not much different. And sometimes, like I said before, our ends in our package are playing on a guard just like a 4-3 guy. It’s the same defense.
Q: So Rubin isn’t having any adjustment problems and Bryant has done it before, so it’s not a big issue for him?
A: No. Not at all.
Q: What made the Browns pursue Desmond Bryant in free agency?
A: One thing as you look back, [owner Jimmy] Haslam, coach [Rob] Chudzinski, [CEO Joe] Banner wanted to get the best players available. He’s a big guy that can run, that can get up the field and disrupt in both the run game and pass game. Those guys are hard to find, and Desmond has done a good job of that in his career.
Q: What expectations do you have for him?
A: To be the best that they can be, every one of them.
Q: What did you see in Desmond Bryant that elevates him above who was here last year?
A: Anytime you get a guy with his size ... he’s done well throughout his career, and I really think he’s going to blossom into an every-down player. And I think the sky is the limit for him.
Q: What do you think of backup ends Billy Winn and John Hughes?
A: I thought they played well at times last year. I [followed] both of them coming out of college as rookies. They got thrown into the fire. They did a really great job last year in the role they were put into because two starters were hurt. I think they’ve adapted well. They’re both versatile, can play a number of different positions along the front and they’ve done a good job.
Q: How big of a luxury is that to have?
A: It’s nice to have depth, and I do think we have depth at each position inside and outside obviously, but I think both of those guys add valuable depth along with [nose tackle] Ishmaa’ily Kitchen [a second-year player from Kent State].
Q: Winn and Hughes been switched to end as well, and the adjustment has gone fine?
A: Yes, but just to go back, the end is like the tackle, so it’s not a lot of adjustment. There is some adjustment, but football is football.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/browns.abj.