By SCOTT PETRAK
BEREA â€” Shaun Rogersâ€™ play at nose tackle has been dominant, capped by a one-man-wrecking-crew performance Sunday in a 23-17 win over Jacksonville.
Just as impressive â€” and surprising to his critics in Detroit â€” has been Rogersâ€™ presence on the practice field, in meetings and in the locker room. According to his coach and teammates, Rogers has been a leader and an inspiration with his effort.
â€œHeâ€™s a great teammate,â€ center Hank Fraley said Wednesday. â€œYou can hear stuff, but you never want to go off speculation. You canâ€™t pass judgment until you meet somebody and know him.
â€œHeâ€™s been nothing but a leader for the whole team.â€
Rogers arrived in Cleveland on March 1 in a trade that sent cornerback Leigh Bodden and a third-round draft choice to the Lions. Rogers had been headed to the Bengals, but a deal fell through and Browns general manager Phil Savage jumped on a second chance to get him.
The Browns quickly signed Rogers to a six-year, $42 million deal, adding three years and a guaranteed $20 million to his Lions contract. He will make $23 million over the first three years of the deal.
Many in Detroit and around the league shook their heads. Rogers was viewed as an immense talent who didnâ€™t always fulfill his potential. There were issues with attitude, health, work ethic and weight for the two-time Pro Bowler nicknamed â€œBig Baby.â€
There have been no such problems as a Brown.
â€œI know that sometimes a change of scenery can impact a player,â€ said coach Romeo Crennel, citing running back Corey Dillonâ€™s image makeover in New England. â€œI donâ€™t know what happened in Detroit or what they felt about it, but anytime you bring a new player to your team you go by what you see and what he has done for you. And from the time he has walked in the door, he has been a good citizen and a good football player.â€
Rogers, who has 37 tackles and leads the team with 3Â½ sacks and 10 pressures, is known among teammates as a smart, funny guy â€” even if those attributes arenâ€™t always on display to the media. Heâ€™s been polite, but doesnâ€™t give the impression he enjoys interviews.
But following a game like the one he had Sunday â€” five tackles (the coachesâ€™ film review cut the total from nine), a sack, three quarterback pressures and a blocked field goal that he recovered â€” heâ€™s in demand and had to face the cameras Wednesday.
â€œThe past is most definitely the past,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m just happy to be here and trying to make the most of the situation.
â€œIâ€™m just being me. I feed off those guys as much as they feed off me.â€
Rogers is a native of LaPorte, Texas, but he talked as if heâ€™d been born in Humble. Given numerous chances to sing his own praises, he quickly declined.
â€œIâ€™m sure I donâ€™t do anything special. Iâ€™m sure I donâ€™t work any harder or any less than the other guys around the league,â€ he said, crediting genetics for his athleticism. â€œI guess itâ€™s just a blessing.â€
Rogers is 6-foot-4, 350 pounds. The NFL is littered with guys that size, but perhaps none of them moves with the quickness of Rogers. After he collapsed the line and batted down a fourth-quarter field goal Sunday, he sprinted to recover the ball 20 yards downfield.
â€œA guy like Shaun comes along once in a lifetime,â€ Crennel said. â€œYou just donâ€™t find guys who have that kind of size and that kind of quickness and speed every day. Iâ€™m glad we got him.â€
Crennel has always said he understands the plight of the big man, so the plan at the start of the season was to use a four-man rotation to keep the linemen fresh. But injuries to Robaire Smith and Shaun Smith forced Rogers to take on an extra burden.
â€œMy philosophy is that you play the best you got when you need them,â€ Crennel said. â€œShaun stayed in there and kept playing. If he has to go, he understands that he has to go and heâ€™ll play at a high level.â€
Rogers was a newcomer to Crennelâ€™s 3-4 scheme, and the coach and player think he is just scratching the surface in the system.
â€œMost definitely Iâ€™m still learning and thereâ€™s a lot of things I still can do right, still a lot of mistakes Iâ€™m making,â€ Rogers said.
â€œI think as he gets better we will appreciate his impact on the defense,â€ Crennel said.
After the performance Sunday, it might be difficult for some to imagine Rogers playing any better. He stuffed the run up the middle, harassed quarterback David Garrard in the pocket and chased him down when he tried to escape.
â€œYou know that dude is an animal,â€ Garrard said. â€œHeâ€™s the biggest guy on the field and might be the biggest guy in the whole league. He has a motor and when itâ€™s geared up and turned on full speed, I donâ€™t know very many guys who can block him.â€
Petrak may be reached at email@example.com or 440-329-7136.