Originally written on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 12/19/11

Yesterday in the loss to the Cardinals, Jabaal Sheard scored two sacks to bring his total for the year up to 7.5.  That’s a great start to a Browns career.  He passed Michael Dean Perry to stand alone as the second most prolific rookie sacker behind only Kamerion Wimbley who had 11 in 2006.  Sheard has had some growing pains at times this year, but it appears that he is getting more and more comfortable.  Early on in the season Sheard seemed to get caught running too far upfield or was pretty easily corralled to wherever opposing offensive tackles wanted him to be.  As the season has progressed, he’s mixed in some moves to impose his will.  On one play in particular yesterday, Sheard didn’t get to the QB, but I was impressed as he carried the tackle upfield and spun back inside where he had a lane to the QB from an angle that he was likely to be able to surprise him.  That should mean good things for the Browns’ pass rush heading into Sheard’s second season.

Interestingly enough, 7.5 sacks also gave Sheard enough to match last season’s team leader.  That was none other than Marcus Benard.  Benard is one of the tough luck situations for Browns fans this season.  Probably due to the lockout and a lack of communication between players and their new coaching staff, Benard put on weight for the switch to the 4-3 from Mangini and Rob Ryan’s 3-4 defense.  Benard must have thought that the switch from linebacker to defensive end would require some additional mass, much to the dismay of the Browns’ coaching staff.  That slow start was amplified to eleven when Benard shortened his season with a crash of his three wheeled vehicle on the freeway.

I am guessing that it is telling that the Browns decided to pay Benard even though he injured himself in non-football activities.  Benard is set to become a free agent this off-season after Benard signed a one-year deal with the Browns for this season.  You have to think that the Browns paid Benard because they have designs on bringing him back.  Similarly, you have to think the Browns earned some goodwill with Benard and his agent by paying him even though they could have fought it after the accident.

Assuming Benard is healthy and back in a (white) Browns uniform next year, the Browns might have that dangerous D word.  Depth.  Jayme Mitchell has had a very uneven season including trips to the doghouse.  24-year-old Emmanuel Stephens has seen time for the Browns in his second year in the league after being undrafted out of Ole Miss.  Brian Shafering has seen time in his third year and Oklahoma rookie Auston English has played a bit as well since Benard has been out.

None of those guys are superstars and the Browns’ rushing defense has left a lot to be desired this season, but they are certainly young.  If they can continue to improve and bring back a healthy and sleeker Marcus Benard back to camp, the Browns might just have some real potential to be dangerous rushing the passer without lots of stunts and blitzes.

It sure would be nice, wouldn’t it?  Sheard and Benard could have weekly meetings at the QB.

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