CLEVELAND - There's a good reason for keeping fans behind ropes during Browns' practices.
If they were allowed to roam the field, some might make the mistake of getting between center Alex Mack and defensive tackle Phil Taylor. That would be a painful one.
The two haven't been bosom buddies this training camp. At least twice during Friday's practice the two exchanged words and a couple of pushes.
Cleveland Browns linebacker Quentin Groves, right, works against offensive lineman Martin Wallace during practice Friday in Berea.
"It's the middle of training camp and they're getting tired of going against each other every day," coach Rob Chudzinski said. "They have a good competition, and that makes everybody better. Those two guys are going at it. We're hoping they're going to be outstanding players for us."
Taylor, a bear of a nose tackle at 335 pounds, shook off the confrontations as business as usual.
"Just practice; just practice," Taylor said.
This is a big season for Taylor, who missed the first eight games of last season with a torn pectoral muscle suffered while lifting weights in the offseason. He entered the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and was activated for game eight, against the Baltimore Ravens. He started seven of the final eight games.
The injury kept Taylor from building on his rookie season of 2011. He finished with just 14 tackles and one sack.
"Just staying healthy," Taylor said of the key to this season. "Just going out there and being the best I can be and helping this team."
The defensive line could be a strength as the switch is made to a 3-4. Taylor will start on the nose in the base, with Ahtyba Rubin taking his quickness to the outside. The Browns signed Desmond Bryant away from the Oakland Raiders to start at the other end.
John Hughes and Billy Winn, both of whom showed promise as rookies in 2012, should be improved. Rookie Armonty Bryant and Cardinal Mooney grad Ishmaa'ily Kitchen could be backups.
"Billy Winn and John stepped up a lot since last year," Taylor said. "They'll have to. When me and 'Rubs' and 'Des' have to come off, they have to come in and get the job done as well."
An interested sideline observer to Friday's practice was former Browns defensive lineman Michael Dean Perry, a five-time Pro Bowler during seven seasons in Cleveland (1988-94). Perry, who was known for his quickness, looks like he could still suit up.
"He's one of the greatest Browns that ever played here," Taylor said. "It was real inspiring for him to come and talk to the D-line. He had a lot of wisdom for us."
The best advice Perry gave the linemen was the importance of never giving in.
"You have to be relentless all the time," Taylor said. "You play hard every time."
Barring a rash of injuries, Taylor thinks the defensive line can be as good as it wants. Injuries have crept up during camp. Bryant missed time with back spasms, and Taylor was out the first few days with a calf injury.
"It was just a precautionary thing," Taylor said. "I was still in the classroom. I knew all the plays. It wasn't a setback at all."
Chudzinski would gladly take a Michael Dean-like season from Taylor.