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Young pass rushers embracing new opportunities amid roster cuts

In his final season at Utah, Nate Orchard was one of college football's finest pass rushers, racking up 18.5 sacks before the Browns selected him in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Now, the second-year outside linebacker is poised to play an even bigger role on a defense determined to pressure opposing quarterbacks after Monday morning's first round of roster cuts, which saw Cleveland part ways with veteran outside linebacker Paul Kruger.

"We need to step up in the outside linebacker room and then take leadership," Orchard said, adding, "At the end of the day, we have a lot of guys up front that can make big plays. Especially in that outside linebacker room."

Indeed, the Browns, who made an effort to bolster their pass rush in this past spring's draft, feature an outside backers group that includes Orchard, second-round pick Emmanuel Ogbah and fourth-round pick Joe Schobert.

The pair of rookies combined for 22.5 sacks last season and there is hope in Berea that kind of production will continue at the next level (the Browns also selected defensive end Carl Nassib, who led the nation with 15.5 sacks in 2015).

"Once you have success in college – coming into the league obviously guys are a lot bigger and faster – but at the end of the day, where you come from is who you are," said Orchard, who totaled three sacks last season.

"You just need to continue to build upon that. You're going to have to fine-tune techniques and things like that, but that's something you should not look away from even if you have a season with three sacks like myself and wanting to have more. I know I can keep getting better and keep building upon that."

The same goes for rookies such as Ogbah, Schobert and Nassib, who have all shined throughout training camp and the preseason. The next step, they say, is embracing this new opportunity as the Browns prepare to host the Bears on Thursday night in their fourth and final preseason game.

"I'm just here to do my job and not having Paul definitely, I mean it obviously limits the numbers, numbers go down, so there's going to be more opportunities for all the guys in the room so I'll do my best to fill that space," said Schobert, who received first-team reps last week in Tampa.

Ogbah, whom Schobert described as a "physical freak," took a similar stance, saying he's prepared to do whatever the coaching staff asks of him. After all, the former Oklahoma State standout has worked at multiple positions in order for the Browns to figure out where he best fits on the field.

"It's just whatever the team wants me to do," he said. "They drafted me as a versatile player and I'm just ready to do whatever they ask."

To be sure, the Browns defense — including its pass rush — remain a work in progress, though the group has shown flashes of what it might be able to do this season.

"It's a process. We have guys that are very, very capable of making it back there. It's just little things, as far as angles. It's a game of angles and having the right lanes," said Orchard, pointing to a 30-13 loss to the Buccaneers on Friday.

"There were so many times we were there, we had him, we just couldn't bring (Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston) down. Little things like that we need to just take care of, and at the end of the day I know we'll be a successful defense."

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