BEREA, Ohio — Eyes fixed ahead, Browns linebacker Matt Roth, full of tattoos and controlled aggression, stomped across the carpet in Cleveland's locker room looking as if he was ready to start a fight.
Not in here. Roth saves his brawling for the field.
As he walks by, everyone gets out of Roth's way.
“I'm scared of him,” joked Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas, “and he's one of my friends.”
Roth is the Browns' resident tough guy, whose mission on the field is to hit anything in front of him. In last week's win over Cincinnati, Roth matched a career high with two sacks, the last coming when he relentlessly chased down Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer.
Needless to say, the 6-foot-4, 275-pound Roth, claimed by the Browns last November year after four-plus seasons in Miami, is a bit of a character. Some of his teammates think he's funny. Others think he's a little crazy. There's no debating that he's a physical force.
An undefeated state wrestling champion in high school, Roth is a guy you want on your side. He's big and he's bad.
“That's the main reason I'm glad training camp is over 'cause I don't have to deal with Matt Roth and everybody else on every other team does,” Browns tight end Benjamin Watson said. “That guy, I really haven't seen anybody block him — tight end, tackle, running back. When he wants to get going and he wants to bust through there and make a play, there's very few people that can stand in his way.”
Roth's job is simple. His assignment each week is to take the other team's tight end out of the game, and he'll do whatever's necessary to complete the task.
Is there a tight end that can block him?
“I haven't see him,” Roth said, chuckling. “But you know, that's my deal. It's a mismatch. I go to the tight end side and rough those guys up. That's who I am.”
This Sunday, Roth's challenge is to make life difficult for three hours on Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez, who has faced Roth four previous times.
Gonzalez expects another rough day.
“He doesn't have too many moves,” Gonzalez said in a conference call. “Just bull rushing' and a guy that likes to get after it. He has a high motor. He's one of those guys you better be prepared for or he'll embarrass you.”
Browns tight end Evan Moore spent part of his summer getting beat up daily by Roth in camp. Moore was getting abused so badly during contact drills and got so frustrated that he couldn't block Roth that he finally asked his teammate for some advice.
“I asked him, 'What am I doing wrong? I can't block you,'” Moore said. “He said, 'No tight end will ever block me. You're not doing anything wrong. It's just not going to happen.' So I said, ‘Well, you can't guard me, so I guess we're even.” '
Roth has a unique coverage style. It's called bump and can't run.
“My whole philosophy is if I can knock them on the ground, I don't got to cover them,” he said. “It makes my job easier.”
Coach Eric Mangini loves what Roth brings to his defense. Mangini wants the Browns to be tough and physical, and Roth has tough and physical down to a science.
The Browns are the only AFC team that hasn't given up a rushing touchdown this season, and Cleveland hasn't allowed a player to run for more than 100 yards in six consecutive games. It's a carryover from last season, when the Browns' rushing defense improved from the moment Roth arrived.
A former defensive coordinator, Mangini knows Roth is more than a handful.
“He's hard to block with a tight end, he can challenge any tackle that they put out there and he's just angry,” Mangini said. “It's a good angry.”
Roth knows people think he's a little, well, off. He doesn't mind.
“My mom won't like it,” he said. “But I'll take it.”
With the Browns clinging to their 23-20 lead in the fourth quarter last week, Roth pursued Palmer across the field and dropped him for a four-yard loss. The sack forced the Bengals to punt, and they didn't get the ball back as the Browns were able to run out the final 4:41.
Roth didn't celebrate his sack with a dance. Instead, he flexed like a body builder — not creative, but effective.
“I don't get too fancy out there,” Roth said. “The flex is more my style. I learned over the years you don't want to burn up too much energy, so that's the way to go.”
He may want to try something new next time.
“We made fun of his flex,” Thomas said.
Not to his face.
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