Training days: Browns secondary lacks depth, not talent

BEREA, Ohio -- Take a look at the Cleveland Browns secondary. What do you make of this bunch?

In spots, it looks green. In others, it looks bold. Another look reveals promise. Another peek spells trouble.

"I understand that," Browns coach Romeo Crennel said. "They see we don't have much depth back there. We're not full of experience. But we've got some veteran guys playing at safeties. Our young guys are growing up fast. I know there are two things I like about them. I know they compete. I know they have ability. Now, we have to make sure they pull together as a unit."

And that is what training camp is all about.

That is what two-a-day practices should breed. What preseason games should provide.

Watching the group practice in training camp offers a picture of focus and hard work. And, for certain, a group that is developing.

Could it hold the key to the Browns' season?

We might find out right out of the gate in Week 1 when the Dallas Cowboys and receiver Terrell Owens come to Cleveland to test their mettle.

The dynamics of this group has changed a couple of times since last season.

In 2007, the Browns secondary started slowly but finished strong. Then Cleveland traded cornerback Leigh Bodden to Detroit for defensive tackle Shaun Rogers. The Browns felt they could absorb the loss of Bodden because they had Daven Holly, a third-year, up-and-coming defensive back who had played in 32 NFL games and made 18 starts. But Holly injured his knee in a late May minicamp and was lost for the season.

That loss has made the Browns secondary mix suspicious.

There is in the group, however, solid talent.

Start with second-year cornerback Eric Wright. Quick. Fast. Eager. Tough. He was a junior draft entry a year ago. Thus, his second pro year could be viewed as his actual rookie year -– with a jolt. Brandon McDonald plays the other corner position. Crennel said that Wright has that "confident air about him." He said McDonald competes, is improving, was a quarterback in high school and with that type of athleticism can do the job.

The safeties are more proven.

Sean Jones has 48 career games with the Browns and 32 starts. Brodney Pool -- 45 games and 24 starts.

"Sean has been through the battles, knows what it takes and is a leader on defense on this team," Mel Tucker, the Browns' defensive coordinator, said. "Brodney has similar experience and we count on him. Anytime you see a group of young players within a position group on your team, a team that is expected overall to excel, those young guys must accelerate and match the big-picture effort and production. I believe they can do that."

Pool added: "Make plays. Do your job. That's all we're thinking about as a group. We have 100 percent confidence we can do that and 100 percent confidence in each other. It's a close-knit group, just like this team is. We're not worried about T.O. or Dallas or any other game on our schedule yet. We are getting ready for them all in this work. That time will come."

Soon.

Terry Cousin has been added to the mix as a free agent signee, a 12th-year player who participated in Super Bowl XXXVIII with Carolina. He is expected to help the Browns in nickel defense situations and as a mentor to the young cornerbacks.

Plenty of youth is competing during training camp for the other defensive back spots, including third-year pro Jereme Perry and rookie Mil'Von James.

Camp: Berea, Ohio

Preseason games:
Aug. 7: New York Jets, 7:30 p.m. ET

Aug. 18: at New York Giants, 7:30 p.m. ET

Aug. 23: at Detroit, 4 p.m. ET

Aug. 28: Chicago, 7:30 p.m. ET

Browns general manager Phil Savage has indicated that the opening-day mix in the secondary may not be revealed until much closer to opening day because the team could add more veteran presence via those cut by other teams. The Browns feel certain that since 45 defensive backs were selected in the 2008 NFL Draft -- by far the most of any position -- that there will be several solid veterans free after final cuts across the league are made.

"If an experienced guy becomes available and we feel it is the right situation and he fits us, we could do that," Crennel said. "We will have to see what happens there. Right now, we have some young guys who have a knack for playing back there. Let's see how fast they can grow up."

The addition of Rogers and defensive end Corey Williams in a trade from Green Bay has bolstered the defensive line, and the Browns would love to see it develop a consistent rush that takes more pressure off the secondary.

It all goes hand in hand, Tucker and Crennel agree.

But the secondary knows it has a part to play that could be crucial.

"I don't consider us the weak link at all," Pool said. "People are going to take their shots on and off the field. You can't do anything about that but have the answers on the field."

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