BEREA — Strutting isn’t in Dick Jauron’s personal playbook. He doesn’t use his Ivy League education to brag. He deflects credit, accepts criticism and goes back to work.
Jauron had plenty to boast about in 2011, his first year as Browns defensive coordinator. The team improved to fifth in points allowed (19.2 per game), second against the pass (184.9 yards) and 10th in total defense (332.4). They were the best ranks since the Browns returned in 1999.
Even if Jauron wanted to puff out his chest and act like predecessor Rob Ryan, one ugly statistic would’ve muted him. The run defense ranked 30th, allowing 147.4 yards per game.
The offseason goal was clear for the personnel department and Jauron: Find a way to stop the run.
“You don’t want to be 30th against the run,” Jauron said Tuesday. “We got creased a number of times. The great news about the run game last year is we generally kept them out of the end zone, but you don’t like those big plays and you don’t like being 30th against the run, so we will keep working on it.
“I know we are a better defense, a deeper defense and I believe we are a tougher defense than we were a year ago. How that translates statistically I don’t have a clue. But we would trade all the statistics in the world for 10 wins, for a playoff berth.”
His No. 1 mission for 2012 has gotten more difficult as training camp has progressed – counterintuitive to his game plan – as the Browns have been hit with a rash of injuries. They will enter the second preseason game Thursday night in Green Bay without five starters from their front seven.
Linebacker Chris Gocong is out for the year with a torn Achilles tendon. Tackle Phil Taylor will likely be out until November with a torn pectoral muscle. Middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson (shoulder) should be back soon, while end Frostee Rucker (knee) and Scott Fujita (leg) could be in the lineup for the season opener Sept. 9 against Philadelphia.
“So right now we’re down upfront and we’re down at the ‘backer position,” Jauron said. “The good news is hopefully we’ll get ‘em back soon, except Chris. And in the meantime, we’ve just got to believe it’s a blessing to get these younger guys more reps and get ‘em ready. The rest of it will work itself out.”
Second-year end Jabaal Sheard joins tackle Ahtyba Rubin as the two healthy starters among the new faces. In the preseason opener against Detroit, the Browns allowed 198 yards on 33 carries, a 6.0 average.
“It gets difficult,” Sheard said. “Guys are nervous and usually guys that are in there are like family, where you know you can depend on somebody else. Sometimes it gets in a guy’s head where they’re trying to do the other person’s job, where you’ve just got to do your job.
“Hopefully this week they’ll improve a lot more and they’ve been looking good in practice already. Hopefully we’ll see it on the field.”
The series of injuries includes defensive tackle Scott Paxson (knee), nickelback Dimitri Patterson (ankle) and safety Usama Young (hamstring).
Jauron remains confident he has the pieces to stop the run. He was asked the one ingredient added in the offseason that will help the most.
“I think it’s overall depth. I think it’s toughness,” he said. “I think Frostee adds toughness to that front. I know J.P. (Juqua Parker) adds toughness to that front and depth.
“Emmanuel’s back. Emmanuel (Stephens) is a very tough guy, a very physical guy. He’s not big, but he’s gonna give you everything he has and he fits with us really well. I like our guys and they’ll compete.”
Rucker and Parker were the team’s key free-agent signees. Stephens, also an end, came out of nowhere to start three games in 2011 before tearing a pectoral muscle. The Browns also drafted tackles John Hughes in the third round and Billy Winn in the sixth.
“I know that John is stout and is gonna get better,” Jauron said. “And Billy’s quick. Billy can make plays.
“I’m really happy with their development. They are getting a lot of valuable reps now in practice and in games. Hopefully it accelerates their development because we are counting on them to perform for us and so far they have. They have not disappointed.”
With Paxson out since the opener Friday in Detroit, Hughes has filled Taylor’s spot next to mainstay Rubin. The replacement linebackers are just as raw, with the exception of Kaluka Maiava, who’s in his fourth year. Fourth-round pick James-Michael Johnson and undrafted L.J. Fort have been running with the starters all week and should start against the Packers.
“He’s done a really good job so far in training camp,” Jauron said of Johnson, who’s getting most of his work on the strong side. “I believe that from the OTAs he’s really progressed. He’s playing with more confidence, he’s playing faster, he’s the player that we thought we drafted.”
Jauron is making a personal change in 2012, moving from the field to the press box on gameday. While he likes being able to look his players in the eye, he feels the press box has more advantages.
“You’re away from the great emotion on the field,” he said. “It makes it sometimes easier to call. Definitely easier to see.”
He’s moving up, and hopes the run defense follows.