Robert Nunn sees the bright spots getting brighter.
Whether it's the production of second-year nose tackle Danny Shelton or development of rookie Emmanuel Ogbah, the Browns' defensive line coach has watched his unit get incrementally better.
But there's "no doubt" Cleveland's not doing enough to pressure and fluster opposing quarterbacks this season. "We can't affect the quarterback right now enough," Nunn said Tuesday, "and we've got to do a better job of that."
In an effort to illustrate that point, Nunn spoke of Shelton, who he described as "one of the top run defenders in the league."
"I talked to him this morning, and where he needs to take his next step is affecting the quarterback," he said. "He's another one — he's young. You forget how young he is, he's playing at a high level and you think he's a veteran but he's a pup, too."
Indeed, Cleveland's defensive line is filled with young players — like Shelton, Ogbah, rookie defensive end Carl Nassib, second-year end Xavier Cooper and third-year nose tackle Jamie Meder — and it's still trying to find a groove.
Through 12 games, the Browns are last in the NFL with 17 sacks. The hope, Nunn said, is that Cleveland can turn up that pressure in the final month of the regular season. In order to do so, they'll look to Ogbah, the second-round draft pick from Oklahoma State, who leads the team with three sacks.
"He's starting to affect the quarterback more and more, he's been unlucky as far as the sack numbers. He's had a couple of things that really weren't his fault — but a lot of times sacks are already overrated — but he's affecting the quarterbacks," Nunn said.
"He's getting close and he's got to continue what he's been doing. He comes into work, he listens, he's very coachable, being a professional, and it shows up."
The same goes for Nassib, who has used his 6-foot-7 frame to bat down passes at the line of scrimmage and run around opposing tackles. "He jumped out there and had some great stats in the preseason, he was doing some great things," Nunn said. "But I like where Carl is — he's not there yet, he's not a finished product by any stretch of the imagination — but I do like his motor and his toughness and his energy never changes … he's a guy that's going to have a chance to be a really good player."
In the meantime, Nunn hopes the defensive line will continue to make strides.
"There's no doubt we're not where we need to be as far as affecting the quarterback," he said.
"That hurts us on the back end and those guys get exposed a lot of the times because the quarterback's not getting hit or he's not worried about getting hit."