Browns’ rookies help the defense

Published 1:40 am Tuesday, August 21, 2012

BEREA (AP) — Two Browns rookies are making an impact and to the surprise of fans, they’re not first-round picks Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden.

Defensive linemen John Hughes and Billy Winn are later-round picks trying to contribute.

One of the main defensive goals for Cleveland (No. 30 in the AP Pro32) is to stop the run after ranking 30th in that area a year ago.

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Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard bolstered the line as rookies then. Both wore down, as did tackle Ahtyba Rubin, and opponents ground out yardage late in games. Hughes and Winn were brought in for depth.

Turns out, both are playing more than even general manager Tom Heckert envisioned when he took Hughes in the third round from Cincinnati and Boise State’s Winn in the sixth. Taylor had surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle and is out until midseason. Scott Paxson has been sidelined since Aug. 10 with a leg injury.

“They are both young, play hard, and have done a pretty fine job,” coach Pat Shurmur said.

That covers a lot of ground. So do Hughes, at 6-foot-2, 320 pounds, and the 6-4, 295-pound Winn.

Shurmur likes more than their size. He wants to see how they fare Friday against Philadelphia, a team that emphasizes speed.

“The Eagles are a quick, fast team, and it’ll be important for those guys to defeat their blocks and obviously, be ready to tackle either the quarterback or the back,” he said. “They have done a good job of progressing. … They’ll learn something new each time.”

And speed is something both players have learned a lot about.

“The speed is not like anything I faced in college,” Hughes said.

Winn agreed: “I’ve played against bigger guys, stronger guys, but the tempo is just so much faster and it’s every play.”

Winn said he relies on fundamentals, vowing not to freelance and risk getting caught out of position.

“You have to trust your teammates, your coaches, and if they say, ’Stay home,’ you stay,” he said. “You’ll get your chance to make a play. It will come your way. You just better be ready when it does because it will come fast.”

Each taps into information offered not only by veteran defenders, but offensive linemen they battle each day in practice. They get true hands-on instruction from Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas and veteran center Alex Mack.

“Using my hands more, that’s the big thing I’m learning,” Winn said.

Hughes didn’t practice Monday, but both he and Shurmur don’t seem worried by his undisclosed ailment, which came when linebacker D’Qwell Jackson rolled over on him Sunday.

Winn is considered more of a pass rusher and Hughes regarded as stronger against the run. Neither completely agrees.

“Versatility is more important,” Hughes said. “I’ve got to be able to stop the run and pressure the passer. If I couldn’t do all that stuff, I wouldn’t be here.”

He did both on one play Thursday in Green Bay, tackling running back Marc Tyler for a 3-yard loss on a screen pass.

“I wouldn’t paint them both into a run-stopper or pass-rusher box yet,” Shurmur said. “Just because a guy is physical enough to stop the run doesn’t mean he can’t generate pass rush. Just because (Winn) has got quickness doesn’t mean he can’t play the run. Those are at first glance what their attributes are. Now they need to develop into total players.”

NOTES: WR Carlton Mitchell (right leg) practiced for the first time in a week. … TE Alex Smith limped off after a missed pass, but returned two plays later. … RB Chris Ogbonnaya walked off after Jackson landed on his right leg during a two-minute drill. … Rookie DB Antwuan Reed also left with a trainer with an apparent left leg injury. … OL Jeff Shugarts and DL Auston English had a heated confrontation. Some yelling teammates joined in and nearly made it a skirmish before the two were separated. … Rookie receiver Josh Gordon had the day’s best catch, reaching over CB James Dockery’s tight coverage to grab a long pass from Weeden.


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