Share this article

print logo

Jauron molding Browns' D; Team adapting to move from 3-4 to 4-3 scheme

Even on the hottest sweat-drenched days of August, Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron stands on the practice field in slacks, a long-sleeve shirt and a big straw hat.

He's calm, collected and, above all, tough.

Jauron wants his defense to develop a similar personality, but it's still searching for an identity. The NFL's lockout stalled the Browns' transition from a 3-4 defense to Jauron's 4-3 scheme. The metamorphosis didn't start in earnest until late July.

After two weeks of training camp, Jauron and his men conducted their first real trial run this past Saturday in the preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers. They'll face another test when the Detroit Lions (1-0 in the preseason) visit the Browns (1-0) tonight in the second exhibition game for both teams.

"I would say we're about where we expected," Jauron said of his defense's progression. "It's more difficult to judge than it has been because in recent memory, we've never not had [time with the players during the offseason]. So when we started our actual camp, we'd never had them in a camp, we'd never had them in a classroom, we hadn't seen them. So it's very different in terms of trying to evaluate, and you've got to have patience but keep moving along. That's what we're doing."

Browns coach Pat Shurmur said he plans to play his starters for about a half tonight. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who completed 6 of 7 passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns last week, awaits the defense.

"It'll be a bigger test for the first unit," Browns middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. "We'll probably play a little bit more, probably the first half. So it'll be a good test to actually go through a half to see what we are."

The Browns' backup defenders shined last week in the second half. They shut out the Packers after halftime, and middle linebacker Titus Brown returned a fumble 43 yards for a touchdown after strongside linebacker Brian Smith, an undrafted rookie, stripped quarterback Graham Harrell of the ball.

Of course, those performances have no bearing on the big picture. There's plenty of work to be done before the regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 11.

"I could say we're a good defense because we created a sack, we picked it up and scored, but that's bologna," Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown said. "That's in the past. That's over and done with. We made errors in the game. We communicate and talk about the errors. We go out and we fix them the next week [in practice] because you've got to understand Detroit's watching the errors, and those are the ways they're gonna try to attack."

Not only are Jauron's players trying to learn a new scheme on the fly, but most of them are young, too. The starting defensive line features two rookies: tackle Phil Taylor, a first-round draft pick (21st overall), and right end Jabaal Sheard, a second-round selection (37th overall). They're going to take some lumps early in their careers, though they appear to have bright futures, Jauron said.

"I believe they're gonna be as advertised," he said. "They're both tough guys. They like playing the game. I think they'll compete against anybody. It doesn't appear to me that either one of them is intimated by anybody you could put across from them.

"They'll both lose on some downs, certainly more than a talented veteran 'cause they're just learning how to play. But it doesn't affect them in the sense that they hold a little back or get intimated. They just come back on the very next play. I believe we have two really good players there."

The conversion to a 4-3 scheme is an adjustment for first-year players and veterans alike. A key to success will be learning the defense well enough to stay on the same page in the midst of chaos.

"You may practice every scenario and every formation, but when the bullets are flying, when it's all on the line, you have to factor in guys getting tired and you have to factor in a lot of other variables," Jackson said. "We have to know the defense in and out. Right now, guys are in the playbook, guys are doing what they're being coached to do and that's all you can ask. It only can get better for us."

Jauron certainly hopes so. He wants to see improvement in virtually every facet tonight.

"We're still challenging them with installation, so there are still new things going in," he said. "That's a burden on their learning. We're trying to weigh that and do the right thing. But we've got to see what they can and can't do, obviously. The only way to do that is to push them and keep pushing them, and we'll see. In every area, I think we need to improve our skills and our techniques."