Skrine showing signs of progress

Posted Sep 26, 2013

Browns cornerback Buster Skrine showed some of his best progress to date in last weekend’s victory at Minnesota.

Buster Skrine gets picked on. A lot.

Opponents target the Browns’ cornerback with their passing attacks. Fans and media target him with their criticism for when he gets burned in coverage.

Skrine understands all that. He accepts it as part of the territory of playing one of the more visible positions in the game – especially when things don’t go well.

“At corner, you’ve got to have tough skin,” said Skrine, who starts at right cornerback but moves inside to nickel corner while Chris Owens takes his outside spot in obvious passing situations.

Skrine also understands that his struggles are magnified by the fact that more passes will come his way, and the way of any other cornerback on the Browns not named Joe Haden.

“I know a lot of opposing quarterbacks, they look away from Joe and they’re going to come to my side,” he said of his teammate, who ranks among the top cornerbacks in the NFL.

The Minnesota Vikings were the latest team to test the non-Haden side of the Browns’ defense. Last Sunday, quarterback Christian Ponder found some of his limited success going in that direction. However, there were two notable occasions when he didn’t.

On one, Ponder threw toward tight end John Carlson in the end zone. Skrine was there to knock it down. On another, Ponder fired toward No. 1 receiver Greg Jennings, making a rare appearance in the slot, in the end zone. Skrine again was there to knock it down.

Such plays represent progress. They might not be enough to discourage opponents from frequently testing him. They might not be enough to quiet the critics.

But they do speak to Skrine’s efforts to become a better player.

In 2012, he was widely seen as a liability in the Browns’ defense while making the first six starts of his three-year career, mostly because of injuries to other players. It was his third start, at Dallas, that brought him the most heat – from the Cowboys’ offense and from critics – because he drew multiple penalties that helped the Cowboys to rally for an overtime win.

After the season, Skrine took stock of his game. What he saw was someone with the right physical tools for the job, especially speed, but not enough understanding about how to excel at it.

“Last year, I knew I had all the skill sets to play corner in the NFL,” he said. “I just wasn’t as smart as a player.”

He spent the offseason studying himself on videotape, focusing on the areas he needed to improve. The biggest were technique and route recognition.

Skrine also has benefitted greatly from the instruction he has received from new Browns defensive backs coach Louie Cioffi and assistant defensive backs coach Bobby Babich. Cioffi and Babich are sticklers for technical soundness, and they never let any of the defensive backs forget it.

“Coach Babich stays on me all the time,” Skrine said. “He doesn’t let anything slide. Even if you make a play, Coach Babich is going to tell you, ‘Ah, you didn’t do that right … but good play.’

“This year my goals were just to improve overall and be a smarter player, and cut down on penalties. Mainly (it’s about) just trusting yourself. When the ball comes, just get your hand on the ball before the receiver does, and I’ve been doing that this year.

“Experience (helps), too. Last year was the first time I ever started at cornerback (in the NFL). Going through last year gave me a lot of experience to realize that you’ve just got to let the game slow down for you and make more plays.”

And the more plays Skrine makes, the less he’ll be picked on.

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