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2012 Position Review: Defensive Back

Posted Feb 11, 2013

As ClevelandBrowns.com looks back at the 2012 season, we break down the year position-by-position, and today’s spotlight is on the defensive backs.

Overview:

Injuries to veterans and a league-mandated suspension for third-year professional Joe Haden cost the defensive backs of the Cleveland Browns more than 10 games in 2012. However, the cornerbacks and safeties were an integral part of a defense that held opponents to 245.2 passing yards per game and 27 passing touchdowns in 2012.

In the first game of the year, a 17-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Haden registered one of the team’s four interceptions, but with him out of the lineup from Weeks 2 through 5, veteran safety Usama Young was the only Browns defensive back to register a takeaway. When Haden came back into starting lineup, the defensive backs collected nine of the team’s 10 interceptions over the final 11 weeks of the season.

With 73 tackles, second-year cornerback Buster Skrine led all Cleveland defensive backs and was third on the team. His 65 solo tackles were tops on the team, one better than veteran linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.

During the season, cornerback Sheldon Brown extended his consecutive games played streak to 175 before missing the final contest of the year due to injury. That was the first game Brown missed during his 11-year career. Before the injury, he registered 60 total tackles, 53 solo stops and three interceptions. His 146 pass breakups rank third in the NFL since 2002, and the 11 straight seasons with at least one interception ranked in the top five active streaks in the NFL.

Outstanding Performer:

For the second time in three seasons, Haden finished with at least a share of the team lead in interceptions. He picked off three passes, one in the season-opener and the second in the team’s first win of the season against Cincinnati on Oct. 14. Haden was one of three Browns to intercept a pass in the team’s 20-14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Nov. 25.

Despite missing four games due to a league-mandated suspension, and another in Dallas due to injury, Haden finished the year with 51 total tackles, 40 solo stops and three interceptions, which he returned for a team-best 64 yards. Haden also broke up 10 passes and forced a fumble.

Key Number:

Eleven.

Of the Browns’ 17 interceptions, the defensive backfield had 11 of them. Haden, Brown and Young all tied for the team lead with three interceptions each, while safeties T.J. Ward and Tashaun Gipson collected one takeaway apiece.

What to Watch For:

How the defensive backs handle a switch to back to a 3-4 under the direction of new defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

Haden set a career high with six interceptions during his rookie season in 2010. During that year, Haden started seven games and played in all 16 in a 3-4 defense under coordinator Rob Ryan.

Ward started all 16 games for the Browns in 2010, and led the team with 105 total tackles. He also collected his first two interceptions, defended 10 passes and forced one fumble in Ryan’s 3-4 defense.

In his career, Ward, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound safety, has registered 211 total tackles, 157 solo stops and two sacks, as well as three interceptions, 17 passes defended, five forced fumbles and 54 assists.

“What I see in T.J. is a player that’s dynamic in the run game, a player that’s going to get better because he’s a smart player that will hit,” Horton said. “He’s one of those, I’ll keep going back to it, little men that will hit and that’s what he is. He’s a smaller man. He’s not a big man, but he’ll hit you.

“I’m excited to have T.J., to be able to coach him and grow with him and understand what he does best. He’ll tell me what he does best by the way he practices, how he plays and again, it’s limitless what we can do with players that can run and hit.”