BEREA: Nine games into this season, Usama Young finally appeared in the starting lineup.
The Browns suffered a 13-12 loss to the St. Louis Rams, but Young earned praise for delivering his top performance of the year while filling in for injured strong safety T.J. Ward. Perhaps it’s a sign Young can bounce back from some disappointing outings during the first half of the season.
The Browns (3-6) certainly hope that’s the case. Ward, whose sprained right foot is now protected by a walking boot instead of a cast, will miss his second game in a row today when the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6) visit Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Now more than ever, the Browns need Young to live up to the expectations they placed on him when they signed him in late July to a three-year deal worth about $6 million. Young, who spent his first four NFL seasons with the New Orleans Saints, showed promise against the Rams.
“He really had a good game,” Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. “I think it was his best game for us. It was a strong game against a big back [Steven Jackson]. He made some really good tackles. That was a very difficult back to get to the ground. He had a size mismatch on most players on the field, the running back did. Usama came to the ball hard. He hit his fits, and he attacked the football. I thought he really played a good game for us.”
During training camp, coach Pat Shurmur said the Browns signed Young with the intent of making him their starting free safety. However, Young suffered a hamstring injury during camp and could never gain enough ground to knock Mike Adams out of the starting lineup.
Young and Adams have split playing time at free safety for most of the season. After Ward dislocated his left index finger and later hurt his foot against the Houston Texans, the Browns were forced to abandon their rotation at free safety and move Young to strong safety.
Young believes versatility might be his greatest asset.
“Ever since I was younger, if the coach asked what position I play, I’m like, ‘Wherever you want me,’ ” said Young, a former standout at Kent State University. “I played running back early on, played wide receiver and played corner. I came to college as a safety. They moved me to corner. Then I went to the league and played corner. I went to New Orleans and played [cornerback for the Saints] for three years, and they moved me to safety.
“So back and forth, I’ve been moving around a lot. I’ve got an open mind toward the game. The more positions that you know, the better off you are. You can make faster decisions. You know where someone else is gonna be at a certain time. You know where your help is. And if you know where your help is, you can play a lot faster.”
In Jauron’s defense, the safeties are responsible for making pre-snap adjustments and calling coverages. With Ward out, Young and Adams have been forced to take control of those duties.
“It’s different lines of communication, and that’s what [Adams and I] have talked about,” Young said. “We’re used to working with T.J. at that strong spot. As soon as I lined up at strong, I was like, ‘Hey, look. We’ve got to get some chemistry between us ‘cause we work together now.’ ”
Not only has the Browns’ sixth-ranked defense lost Ward’s ability to give orders, but it also has lost his solid tackling. Young has missed some key tackles this season, including one during Texans running back Ben Tate’s 27-yard touchdown and another during Tennessee Titans tight end Jared Cook’s 80-yard touchdown. However, Young finished with five tackles and no glaring lapses in fundamentals against the Rams.
“I think he had a really good game,” Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown said. “I didn’t see him miss any tackles. He was mentally sharp, flying around, running to the football and we didn’t miss a beat.”
Now Young must prove he can be consistent. The Jaguars have a rookie quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, and the NFL’s 32nd-ranked offense. But they also have standout running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who is famous for breaking tackles and making defenders pay.
“I don’t want to be the weak link in the chain ’cause we’re all working together,” Young said. “Every game I just go out and try to run to the ball and try to make plays. Sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t. But in this profession, you’ve gotta have a short memory. Move on to the next game. I’m past the last game. I’ve gotta go on to this next one and hopefully get a win.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://browns.ohio.com. Follow the Browns on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ABJ_Browns and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/browns.abj.