April 19, 2014

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Browns’ rookie lineman has benefited from extreme sports

BEREA — Billy Winn’s faux hawk fits right in at the skate park. His 6-foot-4, 295-pound frame? Not so much.

Winn

Winn is a self-described “action sports guy” and has spent plenty of afternoons on a skateboard inside a half-pipe trying to catch as much air as possible.

“I grew up watching X Games,” he said. “I like to snowboard, longboard, all that stuff.”

Is his best trick an ollie, casper or darkside grind?

“Probably just a kick flip,” he said. “I was too big to do anything else.”

Those daredevil days have passed. The rookie defensive tackle from Boise State has a career to think about, so the skateboard doesn’t leave the garage.

“It’s just too risky,” he said.

Winn, who’s in line to start when the regular season opens Sept. 9, has looked out of place before. In high school in Las Vegas, he ran sprints on the track team.

His best time in the 100 meters was in the mid-11-second range — at about 265 pounds.

The speed and agility necessary to sprint down a track or balance on four tiny wheels translates to life in the trenches of the NFL. Winn, a sixth-round pick, isn’t as heavy as some tackles, but tries to make up for it with quickness, technique and strength.

“He finds a way to free himself up in there, which it is hard to pass rush from the three-technique or the defensive tackle position,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “I think he’s done a good job of creating a little bit of rush and he flashes.

“He’s a skateboard guy, so he’s a good athlete. He can really chase things down, which I think he’s shown.”

In three preseason games, Winn has six tackles. He started against the Eagles on Friday and had two tackles, including one of running back LeSean McCoy for a 4-yard loss when he shot through the line.

“It felt good to get out there and run around with their first-string offense and I think I made some good things happen,” he said.

“I think he’s improved in each of the games,” Shurmur said. “Each week I see something better and different about him. He’s done an excellent job in the preseason.”

The starting lineup has an opening, because Phil Taylor is out for at least the first six games after tearing a pectoral muscle in the offseason. Ahtyba Rubin is the other starting tackle, and Shurmur said Winn will be part of a rotation with third-round pick John Hughes.

“They’re pretty good,” left guard Jason Pinkston said of the rookies. “They show a lot of different things. Winn’s a little quicker and Hughes is a little stronger.

“It’s going to be a good combination with the guys in there with Rubin and eventually when Phil comes back. I think we have a pretty good defensive line.”

Hughes, who has also seen time with the first-team defense, was the No. 87 overall pick out of Cincinnati. He has a more reserved personality than Winn, and they also bring different skills to the front four.

“Billy has quick feet and is explosive and John’s just a strong anchor in the middle,” Rubin said. “If they can put both of their games together and find a way to jell, it’ll be a great thing for the defensive line.”

Winn had 131 tackles and 15½ sacks in four years at Boise State. Hughes had 141 tackles and nine sacks at Cincinnati.

“I wouldn’t paint them both into a run stopper or pass rusher box yet,” Shurmur said. “Just because a guy is physical enough to stop the run doesn’t mean he can’t generate pass rush. Like Billy Winn, just because he’s got quickness doesn’t mean he can’t play the run.

“Now they need to develop into total players based on what they’re good at.”

Some draft experts expected Hughes to go much lower than the third round and Winn to go higher than the sixth. But Winn isn’t using that as motivation.

“I don’t even think about that,” he said. “What matters is that I’m here and I’m wearing this Browns uniform.

“I just have the opportunity to be out here and have the opportunity to play in the games. I can’t complain about that, and I’m not gonna complain about it. They’re gonna get everything I got.”

Winn has spent most of his time as the three-technique tackle (over the guard) but has also played a little nose tackle (over the center). He has been flopping with Hughes so both can increase their versatility.

“I feel like they’re both really even,” Winn said of his ability vs. the run and pass. “There’s a lot of things that I can work at on both aspects. Both of them are constantly changing, so you constantly have to work at both of them.”

He has plenty of time with the extreme sports on the back burner.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.