By Sam Ingro
With new Cleveland Browns’ defensive coordinator Ray Horton revealing the team will transition to a 3-4 defense similar to “that team in Pennsylvania” run by Dick LeBeau. There was much speculation the Browns would run a hybrid style, but that was immediately shut down by Horton stating “it won’t be a hybrid, not unless we’re playing golf. It’ll be a 3-4. It’ll be the same defense we ran here [in Arizona],” on a radio show based out of Arizona last week.
The problem that lies here, is last season under Dick Jauron, the Browns ran a 4-3 scheme. Over the past few seasons, general manager Tom Heckert has assembled and drafted a roster that is built to play the 4-3 defense. That leaves the team short in many areas, so where do the Cleveland Browns go during free agency to fill the gaps?
Greg Toler, ARZ, 28, Cornerback
At 28-years old, Toler is set to enter his fouth season in the NFL. Going No. 131 overall in the 2009 draft, the former Saint Paul’s College standout has good size at 6’0″ and 192 pounds. After a breakout season in 2010 where he racked up 90 tackles, a sack, two interceptions and nine passes defensed, he suffered a season ending ACL injury and missed the entire 2011 season. He was projected to start in Arizona last season, but was beaten out by the combination of first-round pick Patrick Peterson and veteran William Gay. Toler has the potential to be a starting cornerback opposite of Joe Haden in Cleveland covering No. 2 receivers. With his experience in Horton’s system, he is a logical fit.
Keenan Lewis, PIT, 26, Cornerback
The 26-year old former Oregon State Beaver had a breakout season starting for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In his fourth season in the league, Lewis led league in passes defensed with a staggering 23, while he also racked up 71 tackles and forced a fumble. The Browns need an answer across from Haden, and Lewis could come at a cheaper price than many of the veterans on the market. He won’t be easy to sign away from the Steelers, but if new owner Jimmy Haslam wants to make it known that Cleveland is a hot free agent destination, persuading players from division rivals is a pretty solid route to take.
Rashad Johnson, ARZ, 27, Safety
Many Cardinals fans think the fifth-year Crimson Tide veteran could be their starter of the future. A ballhawk while at Alabama, Johnson just has not gotten the snaps to fully prove himself in Arizona yet behind Adrian Wilson, despite playing 57 games in his career. An established contributor, being paired with T.J. Ward could allow Johnson to drop into coverage while Ward plays up in run defense, much like the Pittsburgh pairing of Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark.
Ryan Mundy, PIT, 27, Safety
A fifth-year defensive player versed in the LeBeau defense, Mundy saw a career high amount of starts last season, and also had a career tackle high to coincide with it. Over his four year career, the Pittsburgh native out of West Virginia has compiled 130 tackles, eight passes defensed and an interception. With Mundy entering his prime at the age of 27-years old, he could be on the verge of being a quality starter in the NFL and could certainly warrant a look for Horton’s 3-4 scheme.
Dannell Ellerbe, BAL, 27, ILB
Browns fans should remember Ellerbe, Trent Richardson certainly does. On Nov. 9, 2012, Ellerbe was fined $10,000 for his hit on the Browns’ star running back in Week 9 in a divisional match-up. The fourth year Georgia Bulldog really came into his own last season, racking up 92 tackles, 4.5 sacks, two passes defensed and a forced fumble. At 6’1″ and 240 pounds, Ellerbe would bring some much needed attitude to the middle of the Browns’ defense. With Horton bringing a swagger with him of pure confidence in his defensive unit, it is likely they will bring in some players to personify that notion to round out the roster, and Ellerbe fits the bill.
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