Defensive Linemen: Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, Desmond Bryant, Billy Winn, John Hughes, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Brian Sanford, Hall Davis, Armonty Bryant, Nicolas-Jean Baptiste, Dave Kruger and Justin Staples.
Switching from the 4-3 to the 3-4 will be an adjustment for the defensive line in Ray Horton’s defense. The two starting defensive ends from a year ago are elsewhere as Jabaal Sheard has been switched to outside linebacker and Frostee Rucker left the Browns via free agency.
Desmond Bryant was a key free agent signing. He is expected to join Taylor and Rubin as starters up front. Taylor and Rubin were the two inside tackles in the 4-3, but one is expected to play end, most likely Rubin.
Taylor (6-3, 335, 25, 3rd year) –After missing the first eight games of last season, Taylor returned and started seven of the final eight games. He had 14 tackles and a sack after an impressive rookie season in 2011 when he started all 16 games and had 59 tackles with four sacks. The former first round pick is expected to line up over the center most of the time in the 3-4 scheme.
Rubin (6-2, 330, 26, 6th year) – Rubin started 13 games and finished with 44 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and two passes broken up. Rubin has been a steady player and started his career in the 3-4 with the Browns. He was playing the end in minicamp but can also play nose tackle. Rubin is expected to be one of the starters in the front three.
Desmond Bryant (6-6, 310, 27, 5th year) – Bryant was the second-biggest free agent signing by the Browns after Paul Kruger. Bryant signed for over $34 million and is expected to start at defensive end. The Browns feel Bryant is just entering his prime and look for big things from him.
Bryant has appeared in 63 games, missing just one game in his career. He has 124 career tackles, including 11.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Winn (6-4, 295, 24, 2nd year) – Winn was a pleasant surprise in 2012 after being drafted in the sixth-round. He started 10 games and played in all 16 registering 26 tackles with a sack. He also had an interception, three passes broken up and two fumble recoveries. Winn is expected to be in the rotation at end.
Hughes (6-2, 320, 25, 2nd year) – Hughes played in all 16 games as a rookie last year, including two starts. He totaled 34 tackles with three sacks. His sack total was 5th best on the team. He is expected to play on the inside.
Kitchen (6-1, 330, 24, 2nd year) – The Browns picked up Kitchen after he was released in the final cuts from the Ravens and he ended up playing in 15 games. Kitchen had 18 tackles as a rookie.
Sanford (6-2, 280, 25, 3rd year) – Sanford has been with the Browns since 2010, spending most of his time on the practice squad. Although in 2011 he played in five games and had three tackles. Last season, Sanford was on the practice squad for the first seven weeks, but then was activated for one game before being placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.
Davis (6-4, 270, 26, 1st year) – Davis joined the Browns after time with the Raiders. He was on the practice squad for six weeks in 2012 before being added to the active roster for the final two games and played in a reserve role with no statistics.
Armonty Bryant (6-4, 265, 23, Rookie) – The Browns used a seventh-round draft choice to take Bryant out of East Central (Oklahoma). He had brushes with the law while in college and one after the Browns drafted him. The Browns are hoping his troubles are behind him and think he has a big upside.
Baptiste (6-1, 330, 24, 1st year) – Baptiste was a fellow teammate of Taylor at Baylor and he joined the Browns as a free agent.
Kruger (6-5, 285, 23, Rookie) – The younger brother of Paul Kruger joined the Browns after a productive career at Utah as an undrafted rookie free agent.
Staples (6-4, 245, 23, Rookie) – Staples joined the Browns as an undrafted rookie free agent from Illinois after. Staples is from Lakewood.
Summary: Arguably, the strength of the Browns in 2012 was the defensive line. Tom Heckert used a first-round pick two years ago to take Taylor and then added Sheard with a high second. In 2012, Hughes and Winn were drafted. When the Browns hired Horton to switch to the 3-4, it was assumed the team was already set up front going from four defensive linemen to three, but one of their first moves in free agency was to go after Desmond Bryant. Chudzinski and Joe Banner said they feel you cannot have enough defensive linemen.
The trio of Bryant, Rubin and Taylor should be strong with solid depth behind them with Hughes, Winn and Kitchen. The front office thought enough of Armonty Bryant’s ability to use a draft choice on him, despite his legal problems and being from a small school.
(Next up: We’ll take a look at the linebackers)