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Four Downs: Rookie LB Nate Orchard embracing role as run-stuffer


1. Rookie LB Nate Orchard embracing role as run-stuffer

Nate Orchard set a Utah school record and ranked second in the nation last season with 18.5 sacks.

As a member of the Browns, Orchard has seen his snaps and responsibility increase by the week but has yet to bring the opposing quarterback to the ground as a professional.

Neither defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil, outside linebackers coach Brian Fleury nor Orchard himself are concerned in the slightest for one big reason. Orchard's strength against the run has become one of his top assets, and it's a role he's embraced.

The way Orchard explains it, this isn't a new development to his game. It's just that the sack numbers he compiled in college overshadowed what he was able to do against opposing running attacks as a defensive end on Utah's defensive line.

"Even in college, I played against the run really well. That's just everyone's perception," Orchard said. "Everyone has their own opinion. I pride myself on that. In order to be a great defense, you have to be able to do that, stop the run. That's what they want to me do, that's my role and I'm going to go out and execute it."

Fleury credits Orchard's ability to adapt those strengths at the professional level to his approach and work ethic. It's been pivotal for the Browns, who have struggled against the run for a second consecutive season and have been hit hard by injuries at outside linebacker dating back to training camp.

"He's embraced growing and developing that aspect of his game first and just knowing that those opportunities to rush the passer will come later on," Fleury said. "He knows that that's part of what got him here. Part of my job as his position coach is to develop and execute a long-term plan for his growth."

Orchard's breakout game of sorts came Oct. 11 against the same Ravens team he'll face Monday at FirstEnergy Stadium. After a month Fleury called an "evaluation period," Orchard saw expansive snaps and made a number of critical plays in the overtime victory. From that point forward, he's been a regular on Cleveland's defense.

In his role, Orchard said it's simply a mentality that's helped him stay on the field and remain one of the players Cleveland can trust on a defense that is looking to show major improvement against the run.

"You've got to be nasty," Orchard said. "You've got somebody across from you that weighs 150 pounds more than you that is designed and schemed to block you and stop you so the run can come your way. You've just got to be relentless and not let that happen."


2. Assessing the injury situation after the bye

The bye week was good for injured linemen Joel Bitonio (ankle) and Randy Starks (knee) but it remains uncertain if either will be ready for Monday's game.

With Bitonio, Pettine said there's a chance he could work himself to be questionable by the end of the week. Bitonio missed the Browns' Nov. 15 game against Pittsburgh, and rookie Cameron Erving filled his spot at left guard.

Starks suffered his knee injury early in the Pittsburgh game.

Defensive back Joe Haden and wide receivers Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel remain in the league's concussion protocol. Safety Donte Whitner, who's missed the previous two games because of a concussion, has been back with the team since last Wednesday.


3. Double take

There was one question that left Pettine stumped at Tuesday's press conference.

What's to make of the Baltimore Ravens without Joe Flacco at quarterback?

"That's a hard question to answer," Pettine said. "When have they been without Flacco?"

Flacco hasn't missed a start since he won the job as a rookie in 2008. His streak of 122 straight starts (136 counting the playoffs) was the most ever in NFL history to begin a career for a quarterback.

Punter Sam Koch and injured linebacker Terrell Suggs are two of the few players who were around to see a player not named Flacco start at quarterback. That player was Cleveland native Troy Smith.

"That'll be a strange deal," Pettine said. "That's tough for the kid. I know what a competitor he is having been around him, how much he loves football, how important it is to him. That's crushing for him. Then just speaks to his toughness that he was able to finish the game with apparently a torn ACL and MCL."


4. Stat to know

Gary Barnidge is one 100-yard game and two touchdowns away from two franchise records.

With another 100-yard game, Barnidge would have four for the season, a mark that would tie Milt Morin (1968). Two more touchdowns would give Barnidge nine for the season, a record for most by a Browns tight end that is currently held by Ozzie Newsome. Barnidge has caught touchdowns in all but two of the games McCown started.

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