By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
A dwindling group: In his 16th NFL season, Tampa Bay’s Rhonde Barber, 37, is making the transition from cornerback to safety. Another plus-30 starting cornerback, Andre Goodman, 33, recently was released by Denver and is a free agent without a team.
That leaves … more starting cornerbacks 30 and older than you would think.
I count 12 30-and-up cornerbacks currently listed on their respective teams as a starter. The five oldest:
Charles Woodson, 35, Green Bay.
Antoine Winfield, 34, Minnesota.
Champ Bailey, 33, Denver.
Sheldon Brown, 33, Browns.
Quentin Jammer, 32, San Diego.
Still standing: At the conclusion of the 2011 season, there was some talk that Sheldon Brown might embark on a new phase in his career by moving to free safety. That talk was quickly silenced this spring when first General Manager Tom Heckert and then coach Pat Shurmur said, rather emphatically, that Brown would remain at cornerback.
“He is an outstanding player at corner and to move him to safety is not something that we are planning to do,” Shurmur said.
Brown thinks it’s the right thing to do.
“Because I still think I play well at corner,” he said after a recent OTA practice. “If you look back, I think the only bad game I had (in 2011) was against Miami. The kid (Brian Hartline), I had good coverage, but the kid caught two balls on me down the field (for 31 and 38 yards). But other than that, there was no need for them to feel to move me. But whatever they want me to do, I’ll do it.”
Brown joined the Browns in the 2010 trade with the Eagles pulled off by Heckert that also netted starting linebacker Chris Gocong. Brown was coming off a career-year, which included a career-high five interceptions, one for an 83-yard touchdown return, and also had a 60-yard return with a fumble recovery.
In two years with the Browns, Brown has started all 32 games and has four interceptions, 23 passes defensed and 111 tackles. The 5-10, 200-pounder is a fearless tackler and plays through more injuries than the typical player.
“I learned a long time ago you keep your injuries to yourself or offenses will try to attack that,” Brown said.
He has appeared in 160 consecutive regular-season games and has started at cornerback in 127 of his last 128 NFL games.
Streak should continue: Unless Brown has a setback in training camp or third corner Dimitri Patterson nudges ahead of him, Brown likely will open his 11th NFL campaign in his regular spot at right cornerback.
The Browns had only three interceptions from cornerbacks in 2011, Brown’s two and one by rookie Buster Skrine. Joe Haden dropped a few of them and netted zero. Departed safety Mike Adams led the team with three and safety Usama Young had one. The Browns’ total of nine interceptions tied for second-lowest in the league last year.
Brown thinks that number will increase in the second year of coordinator Dick Jauron’s defensive system.
“We just need consistency,” Brown said. “I think we played well, but if we can be more consistent, and communicate, we can get more turnovers.”
There’s young blood at the cornerback position in Skrine, second-year backup James Dockery and rookie Trevin Wade. But there is no threat to Brown’s starting job this year.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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