On Wednesday the Browns rotated five players into three positions on the defensive line with the starting group. They have used as many as seven different players in those spots over the course of the first week of practice.
Penciled in as starters are defensive ends Desmond Bryant and Ahtyba Rubin and nose tackle Phil Taylor. While Bryant has been out with back spasms second year end Billy Winn stepped in and has looked good as well. In the middle John Hughes has filled in for Phil Taylor. Brian Sanford and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen have also gotten reps with the ones and held their own.
Unlike say the tight end position, looking at the defensive line depth chart reveals plenty of experience and production. You can look on paper and see depth, but when you watch the Browns in practice, it jumps out at you. As a group they are quick and can be explosive off the ball. They are also quite versatile, and it starts with defensive end Ahtyba Rubin. Rubin has played inside and outside in his five years in the league. This year he will start on the outside, something he hasn’t done in a few years since playing for Rob Ryan.
Rubin has been double teamed quite a bit during the last two years, something he knows he can handle if he ends up being pushed back into the middle of the defense this season. “I’m used to being double teamed, so I’m kind of accustomed and like being double teamed.” said Rubin. If I get put back down in there this year, I think I can hold my own. I still know how to play the position. Hopefully I make a lot of plays at this left end.”
Rubin started 13 games for the Browns last season, but started all 32 games the previous two seasons. Phil Taylor started seven games after returning from a torn pectoral muscle. When he and Rubin played together they were a formidable run stopping tandem. John Hughes played in all 16 games as a rookie last year, recording 34 tackles and three sacks. Billy Winn was also a rookie that played in every game last year, starting 10 of them. Desmond Bryant played in all 16 games for the Raiders last season, starting eight of them. He recorded 36 tackles and four sacks in Oakland.
Rubin told WFNY that the depth and competition of the defensive line in practice has been good for the team. “I think it just puts pressure on everybody to make sure that when they go in the games they won’t be overwhelmed by say a starter on the o-line when they are filling in for a d-tackle. Giving everybody a look to see how they are going to be against some real live action because we have some good offensive linemen that give us good looks.”
It’s quite possible that defensive coordinator Ray Horton rotates his big men during games as well. “It’s gonna be a good rotation because they are really big on being fresh and getting to the quarterback. Rubin said. “I think that would be a great way for us to stay fresh rotating us.”
At one point in the practice on Wednesday, none of the defensive line had their hands on the ground. They were all up like linebackers jumping around to different gaps before the ball was snapped, kind of like Rob Ryan’s UFO defense of a couple seasons ago.
“We did it a couple years back. A couple other teams do it. You just move around, confuse the offense then at the snap of the ball you get to where you know you are supposed to at. The idea is to confuse the offense.”
Is that fun for a defensive linemen? “That is fun. If you confuse them, you might get a sack.”
Sacks of course are very fun. Hopefully the defensive line will be having lots of fun this season, and everyone is getting into the act.