2020 NFL Draft

Ray Farmer likes Browns' defense but is ready to add more versatile pieces

If he had to watch the Browns play a game today, Ray Farmer would like what's he got on the defensive side of the ball. There's reason, of course, as the Browns return the majority of players and coaches on a defense that saw major improvement in numerous statistical categories last season.

But just like the defensive coaches and players who harp on the unit's shortcomings in 2014 and strive to be so much better in 2015, Farmer doesn't let his satisfaction with the unit as is get in the way of his goal to continuously upgrade every position group on the field.

With the defense, Farmer's goal is to not only increase the competition at each position, but also inject even more variety to the defensive line and linebacking corps.

"For us, how we play ball, the league in general, in my mind, is getting more specialized," Farmer said Thursday at his pre-draft press conference. "That specialization has allowed a variety of players to play on any particular defense."

The defensive line, in particular, is an area that demands more diversity than ever, and the Browns' offseason moves to date have been indicative of how much the organization values it.

On top of acquiring veteran Randy Starks, who appears poised to play at the three-technique, the Browns locked up run-stopper John Hughes with a contract extension. Veteran Ahtyba Rubin left in free agency, but the unit promises to be bolstered by the return of a healthy Phil Taylor, whom coach Mike Pettine said will play primarily at nose tackle this season, and Armonty Bryant, who could be bouncing between the defensive line and outside linebacker.

The goal for this unit, which was hampered by these injuries from start to finish last season, in 2015 starts and finishes with improving against the run, where it ranked last in the NFL. Defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil has repeatedly vowed that it's the defense's top goal in 2015 and players who spoke to reporters Tuesday echoed the same.

Farmer compared the defensive line to the team's wide receivers, a position group in which the Browns have vowed to accumulate a plethora of skill sets.

"It requires a variety of defensive linemen, not necessarily more because now you get trapped by roster numbers," Farmer said. "You can't really go out and say, 'Well, let's just have 10 or 12 defensive linemen.' … It's just kind of that mix and match of skill sets and abilities that I think can make you more dynamic than just trying to say, 'I have this one player or there two players.'

"There are very few guys that are going to just play 95 percent of snaps as a defensive lineman."

The same goes at linebacker, where the "old-school Mike linebacker that was a downhill thumper" has largely fallen out of favor around the NFL in exchange for multiple hard-hitters who aren't liabilities against the pass. Browns veteran inside linebacker Karlos Dansby has been a poster child for evolving to the game's changes, as he dropped weight to enable him to play sideline to sideline.

The Browns lost outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard to New England in free agency and did not add to the room with any signings. This year's crop of pass rushers is considered to be one of the best in years with as many as six who have been regularly projected to land in the top half of the first round.

"I do think there are guys in this draft that they could help you," Farmer said. "The question of how do they fit into our defense and how do we see them, I've had a lot of extensive conversation with the coaches about Player A vs. Player B. 'How would Player A fit versus the guys on our roster?' Those conversations have been had of who helps, who doesn't, who's good, who's not. At the end of the day, there's a lot of talk about where those guys will go and who may be available when it's your turn to select and what the values become.

"What you don't want to do is end up getting the fifth guy on our list and be like, 'We got one, but he's fifth' and you don't really love it, or do you just take your time, make the best pick and if you get one, you get one; if you don't, you don't?"

It was at that point when Farmer, once again, expressed confidence with what the Browns already have at outside linebacker.

Paul Kruger is coming off a bounce-back, double-digit sack season. Barkevious Mingo is anticipated to be a refreshed player after undergoing surgery on a shoulder that limited him throughout 2014. Scott Solomon's performance in December was one of the brightest moments in a sour end to the season.

How they respond to even more internal competition will dictate who's playing the most snaps in 2015.

"There are other guys who I think have the ability to play in this league, and given the right opportunity to compete and put their skillset forward – they either make it or they don't," Farmer said. "But again, adding another one is not a bad thing, either."

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