Friday, March 15, 2013

A lot of $$$$ for part-timers

That’s it? As Peggy Lee once asked in song, “Is that All There Is?”

Yep, it appears as though the Browns are done with free agency for the time being, roping in four players with varying degrees of worth.

And not one of them comes attached with a label that says full-time player. So far, they have latched on to specialists. Three of them, however, fit the profile of what Ray Horton seeks. The fourth, tight end Gary Barnidge, is strictly a special teams player.

The Browns’ new defensive coordinator wants to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks at all times. And in Paul Kruger, Desmond Bryant and Quentin Groves, he now has the heat-seeking missiles with which to work.

The Browns are spending an awful lot of money on players who will see the field slightly more than half the time. Kruger is not a three-down player. Neither are Bryant and Groves.

Kruger, who has started only a handful of games during his four-year National Football League career, believes he can become a full-time performer. But there’s a reason he started just six games for the Baltimore Ravens. He’s not that good when not rushing the passer.

He had the opportunity last season to stake his claim to a starting job when the Ravens did not resign Jarret Johnson. But he was beaten out by rookie Courtney Upshaw and second-year man Albert McClellan.

Kruger sure can rush the quarterback. It is hard to ignore his 13½ sacks last season. Four came in the playoffs, showing his ability to step up in big games.

But outside linebackers have other duties and he wasn’t good enough to crack the starting lineup except when injuries to other linebackers dictated otherwise.

And in Cleveland, he won’t have the luxury of playing behind Haloti Ngata, who occupies two – and sometimes three – offensive linemen. The reason Ravens linebackers are so successful is that players like Ngata keep them clean. No one with the Browns fits the Ngata mold.

There is no questioning Kruger’s energy level. As they like to say in the NFL, he plays with a high motor. His relentless determination on every play should serve as motivation to his teammates.

Playing that way, however, can be a detriment. At 6-4 and 270 pounds, there is the danger of wearing down. And the more he wears down, the less effective he becomes.

In some ways, he reminds me of Matt Roth, the outside linebacker the Browns picked up on waivers from the Miami Dolphins in late November 2009. Roth was plugged into the lineup immediately and made a strong impression with four sacks in the final six games of the season. After compiling just 3½ sacks the next season, the 6-4, 270-pounder was allowed to escape via free agency.

Roth, like Kruger, was a college defensive end who was converted into an outside linebacker. And like Kruger, he never took plays off. The only difference is Roth became a starter in his third pro season.

Same size, same demeanor on the field, same position. Same result?

The question is whether the Browns will get their money’s worth ($41 million over five years). Is Kruger a situational player like he was in Baltimore? Or will he bust out and become a star as a full-time player with the Browns?

Same with Bryant and Groves, two specialists who will be nothing more than part-timers with the Browns.

The crowd at defensive tackle is already overloaded with the likes of Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, John Hughes, Billy Winn and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen. In a 4-3 scheme, that’s the perfect number for the position.

But in Horton’s 3-4 alignment, it’s way too many. So where is Bryant going to play? His strength is bringing pressure up the middle from defensive tackle. And if he plays the nose, where does everyone else move to?

Bryant most likely will be moved out to defensive end, where he will encounter much bigger guys protecting their quarterback. And we don’t know how effective he can be out on the flank.

Basically, the defensive line in the 3-4 is comprised of tackles. Big, beefy guys who can stop the run. The quicker pass rushers are usually moved to outside linebacker, which is where Jabaal Sheard probably will wind up. And the question there is how hard will it be for Sheard to adapt to a position he’s never played.

Where does it leave the likes of Rubin, Taylor and Kitchen, all nose-tackle types. And do Hughes and Winn move to defensive end?

Right now, the Browns have way too many defensive linemen for the new scheme. The numbers game will catch up with at least two of the aforementioned unless Horton comes up with some brilliant scheme to involve everyone.

As for character, the Browns don’t seem to mind that Bryant brings along some baggage. In awarding him with a $34 million contract, they seem confident his penchant for getting into trouble off the field is in his past.

Beating up a man in a Myrtle Beach, S.C., convenience store parking lot in June 2010, and getting arrested last month for what has been described as “criminal mischief” at a friend’s house are signs the young man has problems.

His mug shot from the latest incident has gone viral. One can understand why.

He has been the butt of numerous jokes from that picture, especially since late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel dubbed it “Dezzzing.”

Nice. And embarrassing.

Bryant might be a Harvard graduate with a degree in economics, but he has proven that even Harvard grads can do stupid things. How that translates to the football field remains to be seen.

Groves, rescued by Horton last season in Arizona, is strictly a specialist. He does nothing more than rush the passer. That’s it. That’s how he is most effective. Other than that, he’s either a special teamer or on the sideline. He’s a third-and-long player. Period.

A lot of fans are excited about the Kruger and Bryant signings. They anticipate a substantial rise in the number of sacks. What they should hope for is more consistency in that department.

Last season, the Browns posted a modest 38 sacks in 16 games, six more than the previous season. But they produced 22 of those sacks (nearly 58%) in four games. In the other 12 games, they nailed opposing quarterbacks just 16 times.

There were too many times when the pass rush disappeared in 2012. With the likes of Kruger, Bryant and Groves, the Browns are gambling that will not happen this season. After all, isn’t that what free agency is all about?

Bring on the college draft.

No comments:

Post a Comment