Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor stretches during practice at NFL football training camp in Berea, Ohio.
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BEREA, Ohio -- They are rookies, subject to the same ribbing and ridicule Cleveland's veterans give all the newbies.
Defensive linemen Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard don't get any preferential treatment. They're no different from the Browns other first-year players.
Except on Sunday.
After the season's first two games, Taylor and Sheard, Cleveland's top two draft picks this year, are showing potential and signs they could become quality core players for the Browns (1-1). They're making big plays and performing beyond their years. These kids look like seasoned veterans.
"It sure feels that way so far," linebacker Scott Fujita said as the Browns prepared to host the Dolphins on Sunday. "They're young, but they're familiar with a system like this. They play fast. They play aggressive. That's all you can ask for at this point. Now it's just about improving every week."
That's the trick for NFL rookies, but Taylor and Sheard appear to be catching on quickly.
Both had a major impact in Cleveland's 27-19 win on Sunday over the Colts, whose offensive line had a tough time dealing with the Browns' front our of Taylor, Sheard, Ahtyba Rubin, and Jayme Mitchell.
The 335-pound Taylor, the No. 21 overall pick, had five tackles, batted down a pass, and created pressure on quarterback Kerry Collins by powering his way through the interior of Indy's front. Sheard, a second-round pick (No. 37 overall) from Pittsburgh, had five tackles, and stripped Collins on a fourth-quarter sack that he nearly negated with an ill-advised lateral.
He won't make that mistake again.
"We got him right," Fujita joked. "Don't worry about that."
Sheard played on the left side against Indianapolis after playing right end against Cincinnati in the season opener. He flip-flopped with Mitchell, and Browns coach Pat Shurmur said he will likely stick with that alignment going forward because Sheard is more comfortable on the left side.
Why's that, coach?
"He just is," Shurmur said. "Certain guys just tend to be better on doing certain things. That's part of the evaluation process as you get to know guys."
As the Browns learn more about Taylor and Sheard, the young linemen are doing their part to grasp the complexities of playing on the line as pros. It's not like college, where their talent, strength, and speed helped them overwhelm opponents. At this level, everyone's big, fast, and stout, and offensive coaches can devise schemes to expose players -- especially eager rookies trying to make a name for themselves.
Taylor and Sheard are getting a crash course in Defense 101.
"It's very easy to get out of a gap," Shurmur said. "There's gap control, there's defeating blocks, and feeling schemes. A lot of guys will come into this league having played just, 'Go get the quarterback.' Now, there's so much happening there that I think there's a lot to learn, not to mention you're amongst 300 pound-plus men hitting you from all different angles.
"There's a lot going on there."
Sheard, who benefited from facing Browns Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas during training camp, said there are times when his brain is in information overload. And, there's a big difference between battling a well-traveled 30-year-old and a 19-year-old sophomore.
Asked about the major difference between college ball and the pros, Sheard shook his head.
"Whew," Sheard said, exhaling. "Offensive linemen are a lot smarter and a little bit bigger. Their arms are a lot longer and it's the smaller things they do to you. They know how to use their bodies. I used to be able to flip my body in there, and in college it would work. Now it doesn't."
Taylor too has had to adjust his game. The days of throwing around 270-pound centers are over. He's had to develop new ways of beating linemen by getting off the ball quicker or using his hands to gain leverage. Against Indianapolis, he faced complex blocking schemes -- the Colts like to double-team and use zones -- and Taylor more than held his own.
He gave himself a "B to B-plus" for his performance.
"I grade myself hard," Taylor said. "Coach might think I did something well, and I might say I did something OK. I'm just trying to get better every week."
Dolphins coach Tony Sparano has noticed Taylor's improvement.
"Phil has been really physical," Sparano said. "I started to notice him during preseason games, getting better and better. In the first two games, he did an outstanding job. He's a physical, tough player that really runs well for a big guy. He's pretty active in there."
Browns safety T.J. Ward praised Sheard and Taylor. He believes the pair can have the type of impact he and second-year cornerback Joe Haden had last season.
"They're going to have good careers," he said. "They're focused and work really hard. They'll be two future Hall of Famers and All-Pros."
For now, they're just rookies.
NOTES: RT Tony Pashos, who has missed Cleveland's first two games with an injured left ankle, practiced and hopes to play Sunday. "There's always a chance, but we're still gonna do it day by day," he said. "There is no 'yes' or 'no' right now. It's not a switch. It's flesh, and anybody who's ever had an injury knows that." ... KR Josh Cribbs was named AFC special teams player of the week after returning two kicks for 80 yards and two punts for 52 vs. the Colts. ... WR Mohamed Massaquoi was limited in practice because of an ankle injury.
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