Browns positional analysis: Defensive backs

Posted March 04, 2011 @ 1:52 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

This is the eighth in a series of position-by-position looks at the Browns' personnel entering the 2011 season. Here is our analysis of Cleveland's DB situation: 

Overview: The Browns bolstered their secondary with a pair of rookies in 2010 — CB Joe Haden, voted a Pro Bowl fourth alternate despite getting the majority of his starts in the second half of the season; and S T.J. Ward, a 16-game starter who brought a definite physicality to the back end of the defense. Haden has a chance to become the best defensive back the Browns have had since they returned to NFL play. Meanwhile, Ward is well-suited for the rigors of AFC North play.

Haden and Ward helped play roles in the Browns' improvement against the pass last season. The Browns allowed 24 fewer passing yards per game than in 2009. They allowed 7.3 yards per completion, down from 7.9 a season ago. Also, the Browns' cumulative opponent QB rating fell from 90.6 to 84.8. However, the Browns did allow four more TD passes than in '09, and CB Eric Wright lost his starting job after struggling in coverage.

Here's a breakdown of each of the defensive backs on the roster, in alphabetical order:

CB-S Mike Adams — Was the top reserve cornerback at season's end. He also can play safety. His versatilty is a major asset. 

CB Sheldon Brown — Started all 16 games at right cornerback, notching 63 tackles and intercepting two passes. He struggled at times defending the deep ball but seems likely to keep his starting job this season. 

S Abram Elam — Notched 79 tackles, defended 10 passes and intercepted two passes a season ago, showing more of a playmaking flair than he did in 2009. Elam, who has five years of experience, is slated to be a free agent. 

CB Coye Francies — A sixth-round pick of the Browns in 2009, Francies was waived in September but later re-signed and added to the active roster in December. He'll compete for a reserve role at cornerback. 

CB Joe Haden — Began the season as the No. 3 cornerback, but by season's end, he was a starter and unquestionably the team's top performer at the position Haden, who doesn't turn 22 until April, led the Browns in interceptions (six) and passes defended (18). 

S Sabby Piscitelli — Piscitelli, formerly a starter with the Buccaneers, was claimed off waivers in December. He is slated to be a free agent. Should he return, it likely would be as a backup.

CB Ramzee Robinson — Robinson, who has appeared in 26 career games, was signed to the offseason roster in January. 

CB DeAngelo Smith — Smith, who spent part of last season on the team's practice squad, will vie for a reserve role. 

S Nick Sorensen — Sorensen, who is slated to be an unrestricted free agent, ranked among the Browns' top special-teams tacklers last season. 

S Ray Ventrone — Ventrone's primary value comes on special teams. However, he did notch a career-high 19 tackles as a defensive reserve last season. 

S T.J. Ward — Led the Browns in defensive tackles (123) and also paced them in special-teams stops. The 5-10, 211-pound Ward hits hard and runs well. 

CB Eric Wright — Struggled through a disappointing 2010 season. Teams targeted him with success in the passing game, and he was benched. However, the Browns reportedly gave him a second-round restricted free-agent tender, perhaps a signal they want him back in 2011. 

Bottom line: Haden is the star of this group, and Ward could be a solid starter for years to come, too. If Wright returns and recaptures his best form, the secondary could take a step forward. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Browns drafted at least one defensive back, with safety perhaps a slightly greater need than cornerback if Wright is back.