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What the release of Phil Taylor means for the Browns defensive line

Mike Pettine promised at the start of training camp there would be tough decisions to make about constructing the Browns' roster.

Terminating the contract of former first-round pick Phil Taylor certainly qualified.

"Just given the depth that we had in that room, we knew we were going to have to make some difficult choices," Pettine said. "We just felt it was the right decision for all involved."

The release means several things. Pettine mentioned Taylor's tedious recovery pace from knee surgery was a factor.

But in broader terms, the defensive line has evolved into a completely different unit.  

First and foremost, Danny Shelton is ready to play every down at nose tackle if called upon. Cleveland's first-round pick has jumped right in and showed the coaches and veteran players he can change the entire middle of the defense. On Tuesday, Pettine compared No. 71's rapid development to last year's high-performing rookie, offensive lineman Joel Bitonio.

Nose tackle Ishmaa'ily Kitchen, who was a regular on last year's defensive line and finished with 43 tackles, was also released Tuesday.

"If you spent time around Danny and watched him play and how he carries himself in the meetings and the questions that he asked – it would come as a surprise to you that it is his first year," Pettine said.

Taylor's 42 starts, 69 career tackles and seven sacks were not dismissed by the Browns. Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer have said all along that Cleveland will have to cut some very good football players.

An influx of new linemen was viewed by the Browns as a better fit within Jim O'Neil's defense.

Free agent acquisition Randy Starks has been to Pro Bowls and brought veteran leadership to the room. Third-round pick Xavier Cooper already has three sacks in the preseason. Dylan Wynn is an undrafted free agent who has entered legitimate discussions about making the 53-man roster.

"We feel the defensive line is going to be the strength of what we do defensively," Pettine said. "Those are our circumstances. We are confident with the youth in that room."

In particular, 24-year-old Jamie Meder has surged in the month of August and has been touted as one of the most improved players on the entire roster. Meder, a native of Parma Heights, plays Taylor's position of nose tackle in the middle.

"We all are working our hardest," Meder said. "We are relentless. We are flying around and getting after the ball together."

Taylor was adored by fans and members of the organization. On Tuesday, he got caught in a numbers game that shows how much the Browns improved the depth of the roster.

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