- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:
The Cleveland Browns finished with the second-ranked pass defense in the NFL last season. The Browns will be even stronger in the secondary this year, even though there could be as many as three different starters from last season.
The one starter who will remain is Joe Haden, the most talented cornerback in the division, who broke up 37 passes in his first two seasons. He held his own against some of the best receivers in the NFL, from Larry Fitzgerald to Brandon Marshall. The cornerback who will start opposite Haden is up in the air right now. Sheldon Brown, last season's starter, ran with the first team this spring, but Dimitri Patterson is ready to take over the starting job. He excelled in the nickelback role, breaking up 12 passes and making 26 tackles.
Strong safety T.J. Ward is primed to have a breakout season. He was among the top 10 safeties in the NFL before a foot injury sidelined him for the final eight games of the season. Ward's physical presence should make an impact on Cleveland's porous run defense. The free safety spot is open after Mike Adams signed with the Denver Broncos in free agency. Eric Hagg is the leading contender after his strong showing this spring. A seventh-round pick from a year ago, Hagg looks like he's the most improved player on the Browns this season.