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2012 Position Review: Defensive Line

Posted Feb 4, 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 line.

Overview:

The Cleveland Browns addressed the defensive line when they selected tackle Phil Taylor and end Jabaal Sheard in the 2011 NFL Draft, and they continued to build onto that core of Taylor, Sheard and veteran tackle Ahtyba Rubin with the additions of Juqua Parker and Frostee Rucker through free agency, as well as John Hughes and Billy Winn through the 2012 NFL Draft.

For most of the season, Parker was leading the team in sacks and finished the year second behind Sheard, while Rucker battled his way through injuries and totaled 48 tackles, 29 solo stops, four sacks and one forced fumble.

With Taylor (torn pectoral muscle) and Rubin (calf injury) out of the lineup for a combined 11 games before Thanksgiving, Winn and Hughes got an early chance to show that they could make an impact and finished the year as integral parts of the defensive tackle rotation. Winn registered 26 tackles and one sack, intercepted a pass and was among NFL rookie leaders with two fumble recoveries. Hughes was in the top 10 for tackles among rookies. He ended the year with 34 total tackles and three sacks.

Winn also displayed some versatility when he was moved to defensive end in spot situations during his rookie season.

When Taylor came back into the lineup, he made 12 solo tackles and one sack next to Rubin, who collected 44 tackles, 30 solo stops, two sacks and two fumble recoveries. Since the start of the 2010 season, Rubin has registered 209 tackles, the most of any NFL defensive lineman.

Undrafted free agent Ishmaa’ily Kitchen was claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens after training camp and registered 17 total tackles, including 11 assists.

Outstanding Performer:

Sheard led the team with 8.5 sacks during his rookie season, the second-best total ever by a first-year Brown. However, he had just two sacks before the bye week on Nov. 11. After returning from the bye week, Sheard registered five quarterback sacks and finished the year with a team-best seven, one more than Parker.

Sheard had a sack in back-to-back games once in 2012, the first of which came in a 30-7 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 9, and the second in the home finale against the Washington Redskins. He ended the year with a two-sack performance on Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at Heinz Field, the same field Sheard used to play on at the University of Pittsburgh.

Sheard made 16 starts in 2012 and totaled 55 stops, including 38 solo tackles.

Key Number:

Twenty-five.

The Browns’ defensive linemen combined to register 25 of the team’s 38 total sacks this past season. That is an improvement of 4.5 sacks from the 2011 season, when Sheard, Rubin, Taylor, Jayme Mitchell, Scott Paxson, Marcus Benard and Brian Schaefering combined for 20.5.

What to Watch For:

The switch to a 3-4, as well as the use of multiple fronts.

When the Browns added Ray Horton to the coaching staff as defensive coordinator, the former Arizona defensive coordinator wanted to switch to a base 3-4 scheme. Horton was introduced as the defensive coordinator last Tuesday morning and had a clear direction for what he wants out of a defensive unit.

“I want to look like an aggressive, forward, attacking defense that has big men that can run and little men that can hit,” Horton said. “I’ve seen that on tape, and that’s the most important thing to me. We are a multi-front, attacking defense, and that’s the most important thing.”