Cullen: ‘It all starts up front’

Posted by Vic Carucci on April 3, 2013 – 11:22 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

No one would dispute that you need great quarterbacking to win in the NFL or that anyone who plays the position to the level of the last Super Bowl MVP, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, is the face of your franchise.

But the defense has a prominent face, too. It’s the collective face of the defensive linemen.

“Anywhere I’ve been, whether it be college or the National Football League, they’re going to be the face of the team or the franchise,” new Browns defensive line coach Joe Cullen told me during his appearance Wednesday on “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford.” “And so, with that, comes a lot of responsibility. They’re going to have to work harder than everybody.

“We have a saying ‘It all starts up front.’ So those guys have to understand there’s a work ethic that comes with that.”

That work ethic that must come through in the weight room, which is where players can be found this week during the early part of the Browns’ offseason program.

It also must show up in the classroom, where they will learn the finer points of the 3-4 scheme of new defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

And it needs to be evident on the field, where they will be in the middle of the month when non-contact practices begin and in the summer for training camp.

“But the biggest thing is we want to be known as a unit that’s going to be physical, that’s going to be dominant against the run, and then, when it’s time to get after the quarterback, when Ray’s not calling (blitz) pressure, we have to find a way to get pressure with the interior defensive line,” Cullen said.

Cullen has coached defense (mostly defensive line) for 23 years, including six in the NFL.

As a member of the Detroit Lions’ coaching staff in 2008, he helped Cliff Avril develop into a difference-maker who led all rookies with six sacks and four forced fumbles. During Cullen’s three seasons in Detroit (2006-08), the Lions were in the top 10 in the NFL in sacks in ’07 and ’08, and were 10th in sacks per pass attempt in ’08.

Cullen spent the previous three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he helped tackle Tyson Alualu to the team lead in sacks last year and end Jeremy Mincey reach career-high totals with 101 tackles, a team-leading eight tackles, and four forced fumbles.

Cullen is understandably anxious to work with the several young players the Browns have on their defensive line, including 2012 draft picks Billy Winn and John Hughes.

“One of the things that excited me when Coach (Rob Chudzinski) brought me here was the group that I was going to be working with,” Cullen said. “I mean, John and Billy did a great job last year. … They got thrown into the fire early because of injuries and really did a great job. And that’s only going to help this year.

“Then to have two guys like Phil Taylor – I thought the world of him coming out of Baylor and he’s played really well – and Ahtyba (Rubin). Those are mainstays inside that are going to continue to get better and they’re really great for the organization. And then adding (free agent) Desmond Bryant has been great and with Jabaal (Sheard) going to the outside and adding a Paul Kruger to the outside, it’s only going to get better.

“We have some great guys that are going to really be disruptive inside and anchor the middle of that defense for us, Phil being one of them. Ahtyba could be one; he’s done that. John, Billy. And Ish Kitchen did a great job last year in his (backup) role, too.”

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