Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Defensive line sports new look

 John Dorsey, the mad scientist of Berea, emerged from his underground laboratory Tuesday with yet another piece of the puzzle along the Browns’ defensive line.

In agreeing with defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson on a three-year, $39 million contract, which will be announced officially Wednesday, Dorsey all but assured the 2019 revamped defensive line will look nothing like the one that performed in 2018, especially from a quality standpoint.

With newly-acquired Olivier Vernon partnering with Myles Garrett on the edges and Richardson lining up next to Larry Ogunjobi, journeys deep into to the offensive backfields of opponents should ostensibly become much more frequent and productive.

The question, however, is what Sheldon Richardson have the Browns signed? The one who played defensive end so well for four seasons with the New York Jets? Or the one whose production fell off after being switched to tackle the last two seasons in Seattle and Minnesota?

Does he still have the skills that earned him defensive Rookie-of-the-Year honors in the National Football League? Or have they eroded to the point where he has become an NFL vagabond, playing with his fourth team in four years?

Dorsey is clearly gambling (shocking, I know) that Richardson, same age as Vernon at 28, sill has plenty left and playing with a team clearly on the rise will serve as motivation. Theoretically, both men are in the prime of their careers. Playing with Garrett certainly won’t hurt.

The big problem on defense last season was the inability – with Garrett the lone exception – to make life uncomfortable for opposing quarterbacks. Add the inability to stop the run game and fixing the defensive trench all added up and became priority No. 1.

There is no reason to believe Dorsey will stop there. The college draft is loaded this season with quality defensive linemen and it would not surprise to see the Cleveland general manager attempt to strengthen the depth there.

Enough skill players taken early in the draft should push a high quality defensive lineman or two down to the Browns’ slot at No. 17. Unless, of course, Dorsey feels the need to move up and grab someone he has identified as a must-get.

The two latest moves, in addition to the continuing growth of second-year hybrid linebacker Genard Avery, relegate second-year disappointment Trevon Coley to a situational role inside and seriously jeopardize Emmanuel Ogbah’s stay in Cleveland.  

It will also give new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and his staff a chance to unlock the mystery of why Chad Thomas, a third-round draft pick last year, all but disappeared during the season and contributed less than zero.

The 67th overall selection in the lottery should not become a cipher in the grand scheme of things with a professional football team. His team biography says he is “a working music producer when not playing football and produced tracks for (several) recording artists.” The Browns need him to produce . . . on a football field.
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One less concern on offense: Breshad Perriman somewhat surprisingly signed a one-year, $4 million contract Tuesday, 24 hours before his contract would have expired.

The former first-round draft choice by Baltimore, whose career took off with the Browns last season after three disappointing seasons with the Ravens, was rumored to be using last season’s success as a reason to test free agency.

It is being labeled a prove-it signing, as in prove last season – the speedy wide receiver caught 16 passes for 340 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 10 games – was no fluke and further success this season would act as a bridge to a much more lucrative future contract.

It is widely believed Perriman had become one of quarterback Baker Mayfield’s favorite receivers, averaging 21.3 yards a reception, but he was targeted just 25 times in his 10 games.

The Perriman signing might also influence Rashard Higgins, more of a possession receiver whose production increased markedly in his third year last season, to re-up with the club.

There is no question the contributions of Perriman and Higgins were significant as the Browns displayed one of the NFL’s most dangerous offenses in the second half of last season.

Together with veteran Jarvis Landry and rookie Antonio Callaway, what once was a club weakness at wide receiver has arguably become a strength. And if Dorsey somehow manages to land free agent Tyrell Williams, Mayfield becomes that much more dangerous.

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