The Cleveland Browns 2013 defense was solid under head coach Rob Chudzinski and defensive coordinator Ray Horton. But a new regime might allow Robert Nelson to gain some traction despite just being an undrafted free agent signing.
The team was 15th in rushing yards with 111.3 allowed per game and ninth in passing yards allowed per game but a 4-12 record wasn't enough to validate another year of the current coaching staff. Mike Pettine has now been brought in as the new head coach and Jim O'Neil as the new defensive coordinator.
O'Neil has previously only coached linebackers– he was Pettine's linebackers coach in Buffalo– but said he wants to run a multiple defense with the Browns next year, utilizing many different looks to confuse offenses. If this is the case, Nelson has a shot to make the roster. The new blood in the organization also helps his chances as no one on the coaching staff will be playing favorites and he'll have a fair crack at earning a spot in fall camp.
Unfortunately for Nelson, the way the Browns drafted this past weekend will make it extremely difficult for him to see any playing time if he does crack the roster. Cleveland took cornerback Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State with the eighth pick in the draft, the same position that Nelson plays. The Browns' moves make sense given the background of Pettine who spent four years as the defensive coordinator for the New York Jets and another for the Buffalo Bills before moving into his current role as head coach.
The Browns also already have a viable defensive backfield and only added to it in the draft. Joe Haden had 43 tackles and four interceptions last season alongside Buster Skrine who had 55 tackles and 18 deflections. The Browns also signed former Jets special teams performer and reserve cornerback Isaiah Trufant to add depth in the secondary so it's going to be incredibly difficult for Nelson, who is undersized, to really shine through.
If nothing else, Nelson will certainly have a chance to defend against Johnny Manziel in practice and participate in what is sure to be a media circus surrounding Browns camp come the fall because of the former Texas A&M quarterback's high celebrity status. Given his abilities, Nelson could continue to fly under the radar and be a surprise in camp but I think he can do enough to not get cut and at the very least end up on the practice squad.
His best chance to make the team, as is the case with most undrafted free agent signings, is on special teams. During his senior campaign at Arizona State this past season, Nelson returned 12 kicks for an average of 20.4 yards and was also the first string punt returner for the Sun Devils catching 31 punts taking them back an average of 6.4 yards. If the Browns think they need help the return game, Nelson could make potentially his best case for a roster spot on special teams.