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Cleveland Browns: Why Buster Skrine Could Emerge as Starter in Week 1
By Sam Ingro
At just 5’9″ and 185 pounds, the phrase “big things come in small packages” just might be fitting of Cleveland Browns third-year cornerback, Buster Skrine. After drafting Leon McFadden out of San Diego State in the 2013 NFL Draft and acquiring former Atlanta Falcon Chris Owens in free agency, it appeared Skrine would be resigned to the bench for the rest of his career in Cleveland.
After losing Dimitri Patterson in the 2012 season, Skrine was prematurely vaulted into a starting role opposite of Joe Haden. The idea of going after a second-year small-school corner was obviously more tempting to opposing quarterbacks than trying to attack an established corner like Haden, and the results spoke for themselves. Skrine was victimized regularly while posting 85 tackles and 11 passes defended. For every solid play he made, it seemed he would surrender another big play, to the chagrin of Browns fans everywhere.
Now, thanks to minor injuries to Owens and McFadden, Skrine has been launched into a starting role in the Browns’ defense. While last season that may have been a thought that could make Cleveland fans shudder, this year, Skrine is turning heads for positive reasons. His improved play was on full display against the St. Louis Rams last Thursday, as he held their young receiving core in check while he was on the field.
“I’m becoming a smarter player,” Skrine said. “The game has slowed down for me. I’ve studied a lot of film in the off-season and a lot of it is route recognition and I can recognize a lot of routes now.”
With Skrine playing more aggressive, he has been excelling in new defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s scheme, and his improvement has not gone unnoticed by head coach Rob Chudzinski.
“He has really improved from the spring,” said Chudzinski. “He’s a young guy and a guy that just works every single day. He’s one of the hardest workers on the team and is a super competitive guy. He takes a lot of pride in what he does. You can see it show on the field. He had a number of times where he got his hands on the ball today.”
“I’ve seen him make plays and he looks good in all those areas to me,” Chudzinski went on to say. “I think they’re the same. The quarterback sees the slot. That’s always his first move and it’s the closest (to him). At the slot, you have to be a lot quicker and you have to be able to move side to side better…Outside at corner, you have to put your big boy pads on because there are bigger receivers out there and you have to rely on your technique, especially when you’re a smaller player.”
In Horton’s scheme, the cornerbacks are taught to play essentially with their hair on fire. The corners are to bait quarterbacks into mistakes while still being accountable for their man on the outside. The pressure applied by the secondary allows an extra second or two for the front seven to effectively rush the passer, a perfect balance of complementary football, a style that Skrine feels he will fit fare much better in.
“I feel like my style of cornerback is that I like to jump routes,” said Skrine. “I like to be aggressive. Joe is also an aggressive player who makes a lot of plays. I feel like I’m good on underneath routes. I just feel like I’m a good player…I’m always looking to compete and challenge every route,” he stated. “I just want to do the best I can.”
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