The Legacy of the Position: Browns, Defensive Tackle
While the needs vary each year, the NFL Draft brings hope and optimism to every single franchise. Many view this hope as being for the fortunes of the franchise and in a lot of ways they are correct. New faces to the organization can spark championship dreams. But there is another kind of hope that needs to be discussed. The hope is that player lives up to the standards set before him by those who once stood in his shoes for the franchise. This year, the Cleveland Browns need to beef up their defensive line and as of this writing have already drafted Siaki Ika from Baylor University. Let's take a look at their history with the position and the standards that have already been set.
The Cleveland Browns started off their storied history by winning all four AAFC titles. Led by a balanced offensive attack and a tremendous defense, the team had no equal. They continued their dominance when they merged with the NFL in 1950, winning the league title in their first year. Their roster was loaded with names well-known in Canton's halls.
One of those names was defensive lineman Bill Willis. He was either first or second-team All-AAFC in each of his four years in that league and was first-team All-Pro every year he was in the NFL. By the time he retired in 1953, the team owned four AAFC and an NFL title with Willis being a major contributor on the defensive side.
When Willis retired, the team had just lost its third straight championship game in a row. They yearned for more and in the next two years, lined up Mike McCormack and Bob Gain at middle guard where they helped the team win the next two NFL championships. A nose guard in today's parlance, these two men helped fill the middle of the line as the running back tried in vain to gain extra yardage.
While both stayed through the Browns' dynasty of the 1950s, it was Bob Gain who proved to be the most valuable. He played so well at both defensive end and tackle that he was eventually invited to the Pro Bowl for both positions.
By 1964, it had been a decade since the Browns had last won a championship and they were getting restless. they drafted Jim Kanicki in 1963 out of Michigan and traded for Dick Modzelewski in 1964. Together, they helped lead the Browns to the championship that year where they defeated the mighty Colts and their quarterback Johnny Unitas.
The year after the Browns won their final title, they drafted Walter Johnson out of New Mexico State. He was an excellent player for the team and made the Pro Bowl three times to close out the decade. He stayed with the Browns through 1976 when he moved to Cincinnati to finish out the last year of his playing career.
In 1980, with Sam Rutigliano as the head coach, the team switched to a 3-4 defensive scheme, therefore giving the linebackers more freedom and changing the defensive line's role in the game. Now, instead of attacking the opponent, they were asked more often than not to plug the hole and stop the run. This type of defense needs a good noseguard to survive.
After three years of Henry Bradley serving as the team's noseguard, the Browns drafted Bob Golic in 1983. He proved to be an excellent player for Cleveland as he went to three Pro Bowls in his six years as the Browns' starter. When the team switched back to a 4-3 scheme, Golic's services were no longer desired and he quickly found work with the Raiders.
In 1988, the team noticed a reserve defensive lineman with a familiar name collecting sacks at an astounding rate. The following year he earned a starting spot and soon Michael Dean Perry was making a name for himself in National Football League. The younger brother of Chicago's William "the Fridge" Perry, Michael Dean Perry would be much less of a cult figure and much more of a football player. In 1989, as the team reached its third AFC Championship Game in four years, he collected seven sacks, an incredible accomplishment from someone in his position. He followed that All-Pro season up with an even better one in 1990, collecting 11.5 sacks as the team bottomed out at 3-13.
When Bill Belichick arrived, he brought with him a different mindset, but still kept the 4-3 defense. Perry continued to blossom as a star, recording 8.5 sacks in his first two years under Belichick's guidance and reaching another Pro Bowl. By the time the Browns reached the playoffs in 1994, Perry had been to the Pro Bowl five times, providing much-needed consistency on the defense. While the team moved to Baltimore in 1996, Perry would not be with them as he had left for Denver the year before.
The team broke the city's heart when it moved to Baltimore after the 1995 season. So many memories, just gone in an instant. When Tim Goad and Dan Footman waved farewell to the crowd that mid-December afternoon, they hoped that Goads's 49 tackles and Footman's five sacks provided some lasting memories for a memorable fanbase.
Four years later, the Browns returned to Cleveland as an expansion team. When fans saw Darrius Holland and John Jurkovic plugging gaps and straining to sack the quarterback, they knew that it would be a while before the Browns were relevant again. The franchise just didn't have any stability at that time.
Gerard Warren provided some stability at the position from 2001 through 2004. While he was never a star, he did top out at 5.5 sacks in 2003. The Browns switched to a 3-4 defense in 2005, meaning that there would be more pressure on the nose tackles than ever before.
From here, the Browns have suffered through a lot of turnover. Names such as Jason Fisk and Ted Washington have graced the roster with little results to boast. Although Shawn Rogers was invited to the 2008 Prop Bowl, it was a mere blip in an otherwise unsteady position.
As the years went on by, the team experimented with flexible players such as Ahtyba Rubin, Billy Wynn and Danny Shelton, each of whom could play multiple positions on the defensive line. But, per usual, they did little to stifle the losing. Now the Browns have drafted Siaki Ika from Baylor University. Only time will tell if he can be the answer that the Browns have been looking for.