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Browns' secondary work to be NFL's best

Posted Dec 20, 2013

Cleveland Browns defensive backs coach Louie Cioffi enjoys the opportunity to work, day-in and day-out, with his young group of playmakers.

Cleveland Browns defensive backs coach Louie Cioffi wakes up every day excited to coach a position group full of young players who have the ability to change a game with an interception or by forcing a fumble in run coverage.

And Cioffi has seen a lot of progression out of his charges after 14 regular-season games.

“I’m very, very happy with the way the guys have developed over the year,” Cioffi said. “They’ve played very consistently. As a group, the entire secondary has begun to establish an identity. We’re a very physical group. We can pick the ball off. We can create turnovers and we’re really good tacklers.

“I’m just really, really pleased to be able to work with these guys. They legitimately feel like they’re the best secondary in the league, and they continue to work that way every day. They want to start to get the recognition that they are the best secondary in the league, and that’s all we’re shooting for.”

One of the reasons why Cioffi remains excited to coach the Browns’ defensive backs is because of their work ethic, and also, the hard-hitting mindset that each of the cornerbacks and safeties bring to the field.

“(Tackling) is something that we’ve emphasized since day one when we came in and put this system in,” Cioffi said. “We preach all the time that in order to be a complete, top-flight defense, you have to be able to tackle on the perimeter, and the corners have to make those kinds of plays. That’s just been something we’ve done since day one. We’ve practiced it, and it’s just become a mentality for the guys.

“They’ve responded well to our system. They’ve responded well to our coaching style. They want to be great, and they continue to go out every Sunday, play that way and try to prove it to the world.”

While Cioffi knew what four-year veterans Joe Haden and T.J. Ward could do at the NFL level, he was pleasantly surprised with what he has seen from cornerback Buster Skrine and safety Tashaun Gipson, who is tied with Haden for the team lead with four interceptions, one of which he returned for a 44-yard score against the Chicago Bears last Sunday.

“They show, on film both at the college and pro level, tremendous athletic ability, tremendous love and passion for the game. If you have those characteristics in players, it enables you, as a coach, to mold them into your system and make them better, and that’s really what we’ve done, and they’ve done a great job with it.”

When analyzing Skrine and Gipson, two things stand out: Skrine’s toughness and Gipson’s ball skills.

“(Buster’s) one of the most competitive players I’ve ever been around,” Cioffi. “He’s relentless. He finishes every play like it’s his last play, and because of that, he’s made a number of PBUs (pass break ups) and tackles just because of that effort.

“(Tashaun’s) got very good ball skills and does a lot of things off the field, studies a lot of tape. It’s very, very important to him, and stuff’s starting to show up on our game tape. He’s just a tremendous competitor, loves to compete, has great hands and he really has great range. I think he’s a really good fit for this system. He’s a tremendous athlete. He cares a lot about the game. He cares a lot about the guys in the room, and he wants to be great.”

After signing as an undrafted free agent in 2012, Gipson switched from cornerback to safety. According to Cioffi, it is that versatility which is another key ability that allows Gipson, and the other Browns’ defensive backs to make plays.

“The NFL game is changing,” Cioffi said. “Teams still run the ball, but it’s a passing league. We tend to see more multiple wide-receiver formations, and it’s all about the quarterback. In order to counter that, you have to have guys that are athletic on the back end that can be versatile and cover receivers. Our safeties, put together the way they are, have the ability to match receivers. It helps us with our defensive packages.”