Fixing the run defense: A deep dive into the defensive tackle room

The defensive tackle room for the Cleveland Browns has yet to find success under the Andrew Berry-Kevin Stefanski regime. The unit has faced constant turnover, with Jordan Elliott the only remaining player from last season. They hope the signing of Dalvin Tomlinson or the drafting of Siaki Ika can bring long-term stability

Elliott, one of Berry’s first draft picks, has played with nearly 15 different defensive tackles over his four-year career. The Browns desperately need stability in the middle of their defense. The late addition of Shelby Harris helped shore up an uninspiring unit.

The Browns’ horrible run defense cost the team many wins last year. It was an easily exploitable unit, mainly due to the defensive tackles. If the Cleveland Browns’ defense is to succeed this season, then the run defense will need to vastly improve the run defense. These are my biggest questions about the defensive tackle room’s short-term and long-term viability as run defenders.

Dalvin Tomlinson

Browns Dalvin Tomlinson

Tomlinson has had an underappreciated career so far. After being drafted in the first round, the defensive tackle was buried under a talented Giants’ interior defensive line group. The veteran had an up-and-down two years in Minnesota before joining the Browns.

Dalvin will have an oversized role in the defense, as the Browns will count on the veteran to play well over 700 snaps, the most Dalvin has ever played in a season. The higher workload shouldn’t negatively impact his play. The workload should allow him to profit from his high-efficiency numbers, providing him with more opportunities to play.

Dalvin’s strength allows him to work through the chest of an offensive lineman, while his quickness makes him a threat to outflank them. He can cause chaos inside whenever he’s on the field. The Browns will need Tomlinson to play up to his contract to have a chance of fixing one of the worst run defenses in the history of the NFL.

Shelby Harris

Browns Dalvin Tomlinson

Calvary finally arrived in Berea after the signing of Shelby Harris. Hopefully, he didn’t land in too late. The ten-year veteran has filled a massive hole in the Browns defensive tackle room. However, his presence raises as many questions as it has answered.

Harris’s role will have to be defined by both position and workload. The defensive tackle has spent most of his career playing outside of a guard’s shoulder, either as a 5-technique in odd front defenses or kicking inside to the 3-technique in even fronts.

He will likely be asked to play the 1-technique opposite of Dalvin Tomlinson, who has primarily played 3-technique. Harris’s workload is another heavy question. The lack of depth in the room could see him play a career-high 600 snaps.

It’ll be important for Harris to build a synergy with Tomlinson if the Browns want to have an average run defender. Having a massive role for a thirty-two-year-old vet does not inspire much confidence. Harris has been an underutilized veteran, who is a quality run defender, and a deceptively skilled pass rusher. I do not wish to downplay his ability.

Siaki Ika

Browns Dalvin Tomlinson
Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Siaki Ika is a massive rookie walking into an even bigger role. The young defensive tackle has had a slow start to his professional career. The former college nose tackle has faced challenges moving to the 1-technique and dealing with the physicality of the NFL. Acclimating to the strength and speed of the NFL is a problem all rookies must deal with. Rookies playing in the trenches have a more challenging time transitioning to the NFL.

Siaki Ika has a significant learning curve coming from college. When drafted, the Browns compared Ika to a Ferrari which was used as a dump truck in college. The Browns will have to onboard Ika during the season if he is to become a serviceable player by the end of the season.

We haven’t seen enough of Ika during the pre-season to say which way the wind is blowing, let alone enough to forecast the future. Ika’s presence will be a surprise this season, and hopefully, it’s a positive one.

Maurice Hurst Jr.

Browns Dalvin Tomlinson

Maurice Hurst Jr. has often been injured during his five-year career and has yet to find his footing. Hurst has shown off a strong ability to rush the passer. The young defensive tackle posted two seasons of a nine percent pressure rate during his time in Oakland, according to Sports Info Solutions.

Hurst pairs a powerful punch while keeping his legs moving, allowing him to get around guards and dent the pocket. 

Hurst could be a major X-Factor for the Browns if he can stay healthy. Staying healthy has been an unfortunate hurdle for the defensive tackle. If he is able to stay healthy, the promising player will have all the opportunities to play.


Jordan Elliott

Browns Dalvin Tomlinson
Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Elliott has shown that he cannot be trusted on run-downs. After gaining 20 pounds last season, the young defensive tackle did not positively impact the run game. He is frequently targeted by the opposing team’s play caller, as they run towards him. He has been a liability in our run defense and the pre-season games only reinforced his limitedness.

Elliott does have impressive movement skills for his 6-foot-4 stature. He is frequently used in stunts on passing downs. He’s shown impressive knockback as a penetrator and nimble footwork as a looper. Unfortunately, the young player has yet to find his stride in the NFL.

Earlier this offseason, Elliott renegotiated his deal with the Browns to help him stay on the roster. He will need to show that he deserves a roster spot, and isn’t part of the team for financial reasons. 


Browns Dalvin Tomlinson
Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports

The defensive tackle room has a nice mix of aging veterans, able to provide leadership, and a group of young players striving to improve their technique. Andrew Berry did a good job of constructing a room full of personalities that can help each other.

But outside of Tomlinson, I do not see a long-term solution for the defensive tackle problem on the Browns’ roster this season. In the short term, I am worried about the lack of consistent talent in the room. Tomlinson and Shelby Harris should form an average duo, but they need one of the younger players to step up this season.

While I don’t think the run defense will be as bad as last year, I think the team could end up in the bottom five of the league again. If the Browns have any chance of success in a stacked AFC, then the run defense cannot be embarrassingly bad. If the run defense can be average then the Browns have a real shot in the playoffs. 


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Story originally appeared on Browns Wire