Browns defensive end Orpheus Roye is scheduled for surgery today and will miss the rest of training camp. The thin orange line is dangerously thinner.
Browns defensive end Orpheus Roye is scheduled for surgery today and will miss the rest of training camp. The thin orange line is dangerously thinner. Head Coach Romeo Crennel said Roye has “some clicking” in one of the knees that gave him trouble last season. The indication is loose cartilage. “We’re gonna clean it out and see if we can get him back for the regular season,” Crennel said. Roye, who will turn 35 during the 2007-08 postseason, might be the best player on a three-man front with age and depth issues. Here’s why else losing him, especially early, is a problem: AFC North rivals Pittsburgh (Sept. 9), Cincinnati (Sept. 16) and Baltimore (Sept. 30) have defensive lines ranging from adequate to intimidating. The Browns need to be able to hit back with theirs, unlike they did in 2006 when they were 0-6 against those teams. Pro Bowler Casey Hampton anchors the Steelers’ three-man front at nose tackle. Seventh-year starter Aaron Smith mans one end. The other starting end, Brett Keisel, is suspect. This becomes a bad time for the Browns to have let Nick Eason escape in free agency. He’s a top backup in Pittsburgh now. Aside from Cleveland, Cincinnati has the weakest defensive line in the division. End Justin Smith has never lived up to his draft status (No. 4 overall, 2001). John Thornton, 30, is a solid veteran at one tackle. Domata Peko, a Round 4 pick last year, must prove he can replace departed Sam Adams. If he can’t, the Bengals signed veteran Michael Myers, whose career stops include Cleveland and Denver. Recent mid-round picks Robert Geathers and Frostee Rucker will push 33-year-old Bryan Robinson at the other end. Baltimore, like Cleveland and Pittsburgh, uses a 3-4 as its base defense. The starters are Pro Bowler Trevor Pryce (13 sacks in 2006) at one end, fifth-year starter Kelly Gregg at nose tackle and 2006 No. 12 overall pick Haloti Ngata at the other end. Emerging Dwan Edwards, a Round 2 pick in 2004, is the top backup. How does Cleveland’s line stack up? It sorely needs Roye to heal. “You need to be stout up front,” Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham said two days into practice. “Having Orpheus healthy will be a key to that.” Shaun Smith, 25, has the size to fill in for Roye at end. However, he was signed away from the Bengals to share the nose job with Ted Washington. He has made only seven starts through four NFL seasons. Ohio State alumnus Simon Fraser, 24, has good height (6-foot-6) but might lack the heft to hold up as a starting 3-4 end. He started five games in place of Roye last year. Roye’s injury puts heat on free agency pick-up 320-pound Robaire Smith, seen as a good but not great starting end in a 3-4 scheme. Smith spent his first three NFL seasons as a backup. Over the last four years, he has been a starter for the Titans and Texans. Washington used to be as good as any two-gapping run clogger on earth. Now he’s the oldest Brown to suit up in the expansion era, going on 39. Roye’s injury magnifies the need to milk one more year out of Washington. This massive man ‹ the roster lists him at 375 pounds but actual daily weigh-ins aren’t made public ‹ is funny to watch in team stretching drills. During jumping jacks, his hands rarely rise as high as his shoulders. Yet, Grantham says Washington hustles and is a good influence. “Ted’s really good for us, because he’s a pro,” Grantham said. Fraser, Grantham said, is “a guy we’re glad we have right now because he can play both sides. He’s a tough guy who brings some physical play.” Former Miami Hurricane Orien Harris, who played against Fraser’s Ohio State team in the 2002 season national championship game, now is in the defensive end mix with Fraser. Harris once was seen a a major prospect. He came out of a Delaware high school ranked as the nation’s top defensive line prospect. After starting 34 games for Miami, though, he fell to the sixth round of the 2006 draft. The Steelers cut him last Dec. 2 and put him on the practice squad. Days later, the Browns were willing to commit a regular roster spot to him. Pittsburgh wasn’t, so he jumped to Cleveland on Dec. 11. Wide body J’Vonne Parker is an option at nose tackle, but he has played in only 10 NFL games, with no starts.