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Friday, June 5, 2009
Browns' weakness: Pass rush

By James Walker
ESPN.com

Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson

The Browns got to opposing quarterbacks only 17 times last year -- only the lowly Chiefs were worse. New coach Eric Mangini and new GM George Kokinis brought in a lot of new players this offseason, but the pass rush really doesn't look to be vastly improved.

Scouts Inc.: Weaknesses
AFC: N | S | E | W
NFC: N | S

On the defensive line, Shaun Rogers is a beast. As a pass-rusher, he can push the pocket, disrupt throwing lanes and occupy interior blockers. But his stamina is an issue and he often leaves the field on clear throwing downs. In his first season in a 3-4 scheme since coming to the Browns from Green Bay, Corey Williams registered only half a sack in 16 games. Learning a new scheme or not, that is unacceptable. Williams had seven sacks in each of his final two seasons with the Packers; expect his production to improve in 2009. Also struggling in 2008 were Sean Smith and Robaire Smith, neither of whom had a sack. Kenyon Coleman will factor in this year, but he had only two sacks in 32 games played for the Jets over the past two seasons.

 
  Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
  Second-year linebacker Alex Hall (96) has the tools to be an effective pash-rusher.

Cleveland also needs to generate a much better pass rush from their linebackers, particularly on the outside. The biggest culprit here is Kamerion Wimbley. Wimbley is proving that he cannot be the top pass-rusher; he's only equipped to be a secondary option. While his get-off and closing speed are very good, he relies too much on his speed rush and once stymied, doesn't adjust with counter moves. He also doesn't set up his opponent well throughout the game and becomes too predictable. Maybe the new coaching staff will get more out of Wimbley.

One player to watch is Alex Hall. Hall got to the quarterback three times in limited action in his rookie season. He has great body length and excellent natural pass-rushing tools. Hall, David Bowens and second-round selection David Veikune should compete for the starting spot opposite Wimbley.

Veikune is a tremendous hustle player -- another quality this defense has lacked at times -- but adjusting to the new scheme may not be a quick transition. Veikune still could factor in off the edge on passing downs, but expect his rookie year to be a learning process.

Bowens was a good pickup. He is not an upper-tier pass-rusher, but he is a veteran with strong intangibles and should help Hall and Veikune transition. Bowens has appeared in all 16 games in each of the past five seasons and in that span he has 24.5 sacks. That isn't elite production, but he has been consistent. Consistency is something the Browns need more of.

Still, no one on this defense presents a serious challenge to opposing pass-protection schemes and there isn't one guy who needs to be game-planned around on throwing downs. If they don't improve the pass rush dramatically, the Browns will be in for another rough year.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.