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Browns Mailbag: Does Cleveland have what it takes to be a top-5 defense?

The mailbag is truly overflowing this week, so we're going to knock some of these out in quicker fashion than usual.

Game week has everyone fired up on this Wednesday.

Can we be a top five defense with Scott Solomon as a starting linebacker? We need Mingo to step up to his 1st round status. -- Jay M., Rossford

I'm about to use a lot of words to say, yes, the Browns have the capability of being a top five defense. It certainly includes an elevated performance from Solomon, who appears to have found a team and defense that best suits his skill set, but getting there goes so far beyond one player.

Solomon has done absolutely everything asked of him to earn a starting spot on the opposite side of Paul Kruger. The Browns would have prefered more of a competition between him and Mingo, but Mingo's knee injury kept him off the field for most of training camp. His status isn't 100 percent confirmed for the season opener, but Mingo was confident he'd be ready. That would give the Browns some rotation options at the position, as Mingo is one of the Browns' best outside linebackers in coverage.

Now about that top-five defense…

Here are the three things that need to happen for the Browns to achieve that goal.

1) Improve against the run

  • This is a no-brainer. With a new-look defensive line, the Browns have showed encouraging signs of this during the preseason, but the outside lanes were still vulnerable on occasion. The middle, though, has been clogged thanks to the addition of Danny Shelton and better alignment by the inside linebackers.

2) Get more from the pass rush

  • Yes, this puts a bull's eye on Solomon, Mingo and rookie Nate Orchard, who did not play in the final two preseason games because of a back injury. It also looks at the defensive line, which showed encouraging progress in this department in the dress rehearsal game against the Buccaneers. Rookie Xavier Cooper also appears to have a natural ability to get to the quarterback from the interior spot on the defensive line.

3) Be even better in the secondary

  • The numbers showed the Browns had one of the best secondaries in the NFL last season. Still, there's room for improvement. Late-game breakdowns were costly in home losses to Baltimore and Indianapolis. Staying healthy will also be a key, as K'Waun Williams, Tashaun Gipson and Joe Haden were hampered by injuries down the stretch last year.

What's going on with Barkevious Mingo? This is supposed to be his breakout year and I haven't heard much about him at all. Is he injured or just not playing very well? -- William D., Bonita Springs, Florida

As mentioned above, Mingo was out for most of training camp with a knee injury. He returned to practice last week and is working to be ready for Sunday's game against the Jets. With Orchard's lingering injury, the Browns would love to have their 2013 first-round pick back for the season opener.

When the Browns first cuts were announced, I noticed some players were waived and others had their contracts terminated. What is the difference between the two? -- Bill J., Cleveland

When a player's contract is terminated, he is then free to sign with any team he chooses. When a player is waived, he must first be put through waivers, where all teams are able to put in a claim for the player, before he is a true free agent.

To qualify for having a contract terminated before the regular season, a player must have four vested years in the NFL. That's why veteran quarterback Thaddeus Lewis and offensive lineman Eric Olsen were the only players to have their contracts terminated Saturday while the rest were waived.

How do you like the Browns new uniforms? -- Kevin C., Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Love them. I think Nike and the Browns did a great job, in particular, with how they stand out on TV.

Do you see the Browns signing a running back if available from another team? -- Gerald L., Newton Falls

It's always a possibility, but it's tough to envision for this particular week because of the time crunch between now and Sunday's season opener. Veteran Shaun Draughn, who is currently on the practice squad, is a potential option for the season opener, and a reliable one at that. He knows the offense, is considered a mentor in the running backs room and was impressive in training camp before suffering a hand injury.

Get Tebow before someone else in the division does and he beats us!!!!! -- Dennis D., Las Vegas

Tebow has been available since Saturday and has gone unsigned. The Browns added a quarterback to the roster Monday with the signing of Austin Davis. I think that covers it.

Any reports on Crowell still having fumbling issues? -- David W., Houston

The only way to show that fumbling issues are a thing of the past is to keep carrying the ball and not fumble. Outside of the first day of training camp, Crowell didn't have any noticeable issues and didn't put the ball on the ground once during the preseason. To further shake the stigma, he'll have to continue this "no news is good news" type of play throughout his second regular season.

Is there any way possible they could start playing "Wooly Bully" over stadium PA when we score? Back in the glory days we danced and danced some more to that great song on every touchdown! Thank you and GO BROWNS!! -- James H., Xenia

Just a hunch, but I'm guessing "Turn Down for What" isn't on your iPod.

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