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Why the Browns focused on the line of scrimmage early in the draft

Of the 12 Cleveland Browns draft picks, the first four selected will play directly on the line of scrimmage.

Defensive linemen Danny Shelton and Xavier Cooper, offensive lineman Cameron Erving and pass rushing outside linebacker Nate Orchard aren't just Browns draft picks. The quartet is at the center of where Cleveland hopes to improve most on Sunday's in 2015.

It's clear through these selections the Browns want to walk into every game with the distinct advantage up front. Setting the physical, hit-you-in-the-mouth tone is the type of team general manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine are building. In the AFC North, this strategy has proven to push teams into the postseason.

Still, some wondered why the Browns didn't add more players at skill positions earlier in the draft. During Cleveland's five-game losing streak in December, consistently moving the chains was a detriment to the offense.

The Browns aren't blind to it.

Pettine argues boasting a stronger offensive line next season will actually help the offense immensely, especially with third downs. Pushing defenders off the ball with Erving – or the starter Erving pushes to be even better because of the competition he provides -- in the fold will create more room for running the ball and will force defenses to put more resources on the line of scrimmage. That opens up areas of the field for receivers and tight ends.

"The key for us – and one of the reasons that when you start to build through your lines – is you want third downs on offense to be manageable," Pettine said. "You want your quarterback to look good? Be in third-and-2 to (third-and-) 5. Don't be in third-and-7-plus."

The formula is the same on defense.

If Shelton and Cooper can come in as trustworthy disrupters in the Browns' defensive line rotation, opposing teams won't be able to run the ball as efficiently in 2015. If Orchard becomes a reliable and consistent pass rushing option opposite of Paul Kruger, quarterbacks will be constantly under duress.

Through this strategy, the Browns are putting pressure on opposing offensive lines. If they can't match Cleveland's relentlessness barrage up front, the offenses will be prone to more mistakes, thus giving the Browns more opportunities to win games. 

"You want your secondary to look good? You want to get off the field on third down? Get them in third-and-7-plus," Pettine said. "That's why it's critical. People talk about how third downs are so important, but what are those third downs? Defensively, if you've got them in third-and-long, you're going to win a heck of a lot more than third-and-shorter.

"The staff is excited because so many of these guys are names that we identified as 'Hey, this guy would make a great Cleveland Brown.' That is why we are thrilled to have been able to hit on so many of them. It is a nice problem to have. It has upgraded our depth significantly with some of these, and guys are going to be competing. It goes back to what Ray has stressed and what we believe should be the cornerstone of any football team is competition. There is no better motivator than competition. You find out who is up for the challenge and who shrinks away from it."

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