At the tender age of 28 years old, Stephen Paea would appear to be entering the prime of his NFL career, and the sixth-year defensive lineman and former second-round draft pick said he feels reinvigorated after signing with the Browns last week.
He also feels old.
"I didn't know that I was the oldest on the D-line until I started looking around," he said, laughing. "That's the first time in my career."
Indeed, Paea — who played for the Redskins last season following four years in Chicago — brings experience to a relatively young defensive line that's without veteran defensive end Desmond Bryant, who was placed on injured reserve last month after a chest injury.
"I have to step up and be a leader there in the D-line room," he said, "not just vocally but as far as helping the young boys out."
Paea, who said he'll rotate on a defensive line that includes the likes of Danny Shelton, John Hugues III, Xavier Cooper, Jamie Meder, and Carl Nassib, is also eager to contribute however he can as the Browns prepare for their season opener at Philadelphia on Sunday.
"I see it as just a matter of timing right now. I have to get in the playbook," he said, adding, "it's a matter of time just learning the playbook and learning the plays so I can just go out there and play fast."
Of course, head coach Hue Jackson and the Browns are still in the process of figuring out where the former Oregon State star best fits.
"He can play in a 3-4, and he has played in some 3-4 in Washington. He played in some 4-3 before. I think he is versatile that way," Jackson said. "I think he can play in any system that we play in."
The Browns this past weekend added six players, including Paea, to their 53-man roster. While some of those newcomers have limited reps against professional competition, there's plenty of film to watch on Paea.
"We get to see him in live action against other NFL players on tape," Jackson said. "All the guys, some of them are young and then some of them have played, but they have to learn our system, understand what we are trying to accomplish and what we are trying to do."
After turning heads at the 2010 combine when he recorded 49 reps on the bench press, Paea has used his strength and powerful 6-foot-1, 300-pound frame to bully offensive linemen and plug up gaps.
In 2014, he had six sacks, 33 tackles and started all 16 games for the Bears. After a toe injury and subsequent dip in production last season — he played in 11 games and started just one — the former Oregon State star and consensus All-American is eager to get back to that level of play.
"Cleveland gave me a chance to redeem myself," Paea said. "I've got a little chip on my shoulder and I'm here to help this team out."