BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – Cleveland Browns cornerback Buster Skrine is living under a microscope while also competing for a starting job.
Criticized last year for giving up big plays and committing costly penalties, Skrine is out to show that he can be a strong presence in the secondary – if not a starter – this year.
“He has really improved from the spring,” head coach Rob Chudzinski said. “He’s a young guy and a guy that just works every single day. He’s one of the hardest workers on the team and is a super competitive guy. He takes a lot of pride in what he does. You can see it show on the field.”
Skrine was drafted in the 5th round of the 2011 draft, No. 137 overall but at 5-9 185, many question if he’s big enough to compete with the NFL’s elite receivers.
What Skrine doesn’t have in size, he tries to make up with in athleticism, heart and determination.
Those last 2 qualities are what his coaches and teammates appreciate most in him.
“Buster, he’s a hustle player,” safety T.J. Ward said. “He’s gonna scrap and fight for every inch and every yard and that’s the things you expect from him. I think on the technical side he’s gotten a lot better this year.”
There were times last season where Skrine appeared clearly over-matched as the former University of Tennessee – Chattanooga star got a crash course in the good, bad and ugly that can come with competing at the NFL level.
“Last year I learned a lot,” Skrine said. “I made some mistakes, but I’m growing as a player, I’m growing as a player and becoming a smarter player, so this year I’m looking to do big things.”
Skrine is competing with veteran Chris Owens for a starting job at right corner opposite Joe Haden.
If Owens get the job, Skrine will move back to nickel and help in the slot where he seems most comfortable.
But he’s not willing to just settle for that.
“It’s very important to me,” Skrine said. “Everybody wants to be a starter in the league. I’m going to respect the coaches decision regardless if I start or not, but it’s important.”
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton and defensive backs coach Louie Cioffi are trying to mold Skrine, who enters his 3rd NFL season, into a dependable corner.
He’s been listening, taking notes and trying to prove that he can get it done in the secondary.
“Still be aggressive but a little less aggressive,” Skrine said of what the new staff has been impressing upon him. “And some things I have improved on is finding the ball better. Last year I would attack the man then look, that caused a couple penalties.”
Skrine hasn’t missed a game in his first 2 seasons in Cleveland and he started 6 last year – mostly out of necessity.
His 73 tackles in 2012 were 3rd most on the team behind D’Qwell Jackson (119) and Craig Robertson (83). Skrine also broke up 11 passes – only Sheldon Brown had more with 13.
Although he avoided criticizing the previous staff, Skrine admitted that the offseason coaching change has helped him significantly along with spending extra time in the film room.
“Just became a smarter player,” Skrine said. “The game has slowed down for me. I study a lot of film during the offseason. It allows route recognition and I can recognize a lot of routes now.”
Fellow cornerback Joe Haden, who had 10 PBU’s in 11 games last season, has seen Skrine grow over the past 5 months as well.
“He’s quick, he’s fast, and now he’s calming down,” Haden said. “He’s not just making quick movements. He knows that he’s fast, knows that he can get out of his breaks a lot faster than the receiver. Buster plays off technique sometimes, slow backpedals, reads the 3-step, stays on the receiver, turns into him and when the receiver comes out of his beaks, he’s right on him because he’s so quick. If the receiver’s running a comeback, and Buster’s under control, he’s gonna get out of his break before the receiver.
“He’s being a lot more patient.”
Patience seems to be the key for the Browns to allow Skrine to continue to grow at the NFL level.
It’s up to Buster to make it pay off.
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