Browns rookie Sheard adjusting to the upper level
BEREA, Ohio — Rookie defensive end Jabaal Sheard has been overmatched and humbled since he joined the Cleveland Browns in training camp.
But Sheard, whom the Browns selected in the second round (37th overall) of this year's draft, has encountered a tougher learning curve than most. Repeatedly facing four-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Joe Thomas in practice would not be an easy introduction to the NFL for any rookie.
"I feel like I'm getting better every day on the field going against him," Sheard said Tuesday after practice. "It's a process. I can't come in the first day and just think I'm the man. It's a process going against him, getting better and just learning his technique. I figure if I'm losing, I'm getting a little bit better if I'm not getting beat as bad as I was the first day.
"It's a lot different from college, a lot more technique. In college, I used to bull rush and put my head down. He catches me with that. I'm learning it now before I get in the game and I really have to face it."
Not only has Sheard been adjusting to a new level of competition, but he also has been growing accustomed to his new spot on the defensive line. For the majority of his career at Pitt, the 6-foot-2, 255-pound Sheard played left end in the Panthers' 4-3 system. In Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron's 4-3 scheme, Sheard has been practicing at right end with the first-team defense since camp opened.
"Everything from stance to just getting used to using the other arm (is an adjustment)," said Sheard, who had nine sacks and 15 quarterback pressures last season at Pitt. "You use mostly your right arm on the left side, but now I've gotta use more of my left arm and my left shoulder. It's flipping your body (and) switching your hips. It's just different."
Although Sheard said he's naturally more comfortable on the left side, he knows the right end in a four-man front has the good life. The left end, Jayme Mitchell in the Browns' case, must deal with double teams from tight ends and tackles more often. The right end is typically viewed as a premier pass rusher, and he usually has one-on-one matchups with the offense's left tackle.
So far, Sheard has finished on the short end of many showdowns with Thomas, who's considered one of the league's elite left tackles. Thomas, though, said he believes the experience will ultimately pay off for Sheard.
"I think he's gonna be really good," Thomas said. "I've seen a lot of good stuff from him. I'm excited to see him play against somebody else in the preseason 'cause he's certainly been a good challenge for me this year. I think he's made a lot of improvement from the first day."
Thomas has been giving Sheard advice along the way.
"I'm just talking to him a little bit about the whole NFL experience," Thomas said. "Playing in college is a lot different than the NFL. So there's a lot of things that a tackle is gonna pick up from a defensive end pre-snap about just his stance, his alignment, tendencies, keys like that. If I can help kind of break him of that quick, he'll be much more quickly up to speed to go against NFL tackles."
Sheard will have his first chance to use Thomas' tips against another team Saturday when the Browns host the Green Bay Packers in their preseason opener. Several members of Sheard's family will travel from south Florida to attend the exhibition game.
"I'm tired of seeing Joe," Sheard said. "I know our defense is excited, and I'm ready to see what our team can do as a whole."
Browns coach Pat Shurmur is enthusiastic about watching Sheard vie against new opponents. He is convinced Sheard will benefit from constantly being pitted against Thomas.
"Joe knows how to react and game plan (against) a defensive rusher," Shurmur said. "So you see kind of a good competition there. It's always good to go against good players. I think that's gonna really benefit (Sheard), and I think that's what you're seeing."