Monday, March 7, 2011
A look at the Browns' LBs
By James Walker
It was a somewhat surprising move last week when the Cleveland Browns re-signed linebacker D'Qwell Jackson to a one-year extension. Jackson had suffered back-to-back pectoral injuries the past two seasons, and with a new regime it appeared he was going to test the free-agent market.
But president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert liked what they saw of Jackson when healthy and offered a reported one-year deal worth a max of $4.5 million. Now Jackson is in line to complete Cleveland's linebacker corps.
Here is an in-depth look at the Browns' projected starters in 2011:
D'Qwell Jackson, MLB
Experience: six seasons
2010 stats: N/A
Analysis: Jackson has a has a chance to shine in a 4-3 defense if he stays healthy. He has good football instincts, plays hard and is always around the football. In Jackson's last full year as a starter, he led Cleveland with 154 tackles to go with two sacks and three interceptions in 2008. Jackson is not big for a middle linebacker, so he struggled taking on guards and offensive linemen in the middle of a 3-4 defense. But a 4-3 will protect Jackson and allow him to fly to the football, which is what he does best. It will be key for the Browns to add quality defensive linemen, where the team is pretty thin.
Scott Fujita, OLB
Experience: 10 seasons
2010 stats: 51 tackles, 3.5 sacks, one interception
Analysis: Fujita had an underrated impact on the Browns last season. He brought experience, smarts and toughness to the defense. And as soon as Fujita went down in Week 10 with a season-ending knee injury, it became very noticeable as Cleveland's defense immediately went downhill the final seven weeks of the season. The Browns are counting on a healthy Fujita to bring those same qualities next season. He has a lot of experience playing in a 4-3 defense, so there won't be much of a learning curve.
Chris Gocong, OLB
Experience: six seasons
2010 stats: 75 tackles, two sacks
Analysis: The Browns made an offseason trade with the Philadelphia Eagles last year for two late draft picks and got two starters in Gocong and veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown. Gocong was the lower-profile acquisition, but he was productive, starting all 16 games and recording 75 tackles and two sacks. Gocong is versatile and could probably play all three linebacker positions if needed. He did an admirable job in the second half of last season at inside linebacker, though it's not his natural position. Gocong should feel more at home at outside linebacker in 2011.
It's easy to see how Cleveland's front office believes all three players will benefit from the switch to a 4-3 defense. The Browns might add depth to this group in the draft, but it's unlikely Cleveland will go linebacker with the No. 6 overall pick. Defensive linemen are desperately needed up front to make this 4-3 scheme work.