When the Seahawks offense lines up against the Cleveland defense this Sunday at CenturyLink Field, it will face a pair of Browns rookies with strong ties to the Pacific Northwest.
Nose tackle Danny Shelton, Cleveland's first-round pick (No. 12 overall) out of the University of Washington, and defensive tackle Xavier Cooper, a Tacoma native who Cleveland selected in the third round (No. 96 overall) out of Washington State University, were added in the 2015 draft to help the Browns build on a physical brand football that head coach Mike Pettine covets.
"Playing very well," Pettine said of the first-year players during a conference call with Seattle-area media on Wednesday. "They are playing very well."
The Browns ranked dead-last (32nd) in defending the run in 2014 and drafted the 6-foot-2, 339-pound Shelton with the hope that he would help shore that area up. In his final season for the Huskies, Shelton led the nation in fumble recoveries with five, ranked 14th in tackles for loss with 16.5, and 19th in sacks with 9.0. He's started every game at nose tackle for the Browns this season, recording 26 tackles, two of which have gone for loss.
"Danny's in a position where he's not going to show up on the stat sheet a lot," Pettine said. "He's going to get double-teamed a lot, especially in the run game. Not going to get a lot of sack production from a guy, typically, who's over the center. But it's been good. He's played a lot. A lot of rookie, just throwing him out there, getting him used to the game, and he gets better each week."
Cooper, meanwhile, was a healthy scratch from Cleveland's first two games after starting 34-of-36 contests at Wazzu, where he totaled 121 tackles (31.5 for loss) and 13 sacks in three seasons. He worked his way into the Browns' defensive line rotation in Week 3, though, and has remained there ever since. He earned his first career sack in Week 4 and posted what was statistically his best game of the season this past week in a 24-10 win over the San Francisco 49ers, when he recorded a season-high three tackles and half of a sack.
"Coop's a guy that brings high energy," said Pettine. "He's another who's played, he's been up for a lot of our games, and he's only getting better. His best football has been of late. The one thing he's known for has shown up so far, that he has an outstanding get-off, he's very quick off the ball."
With Cleveland sitting at 3-10 heading into this weekend's game against the Seahawks, Pettine acknowledged 2015 hans't gone the way he and the Browns fanbase had hoped, especially after looking to build off of a seven-win season from the year before with what was considered by many to be a strong NFL draft class. As the Browns look to finish the regular season strong, the second-year head coach said the team has "a lot to build off of" heading into 2016, part of which includes the play Cleveland has received from first-year players like Shelton and Cooper.
"Both these guys, we think, are going to be a big part of our future here," he said.