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As It Stands Again - Linebackers
As It Stands Again - Linebackers
In the coming weeks, Dave Kolonich will cover all areas of the Browns roster heading into 2009, beginning with what he feels are the most essential positions that will determine success in 2009. Today, he starts with the Linebackers, because the core of a good 3-4 defensive unit demands strong play from this position. And as our run defense has shown us over the past decade, this is a position that could use some healthy competition. Dave debuts his "As It Stands Again" series with a look at the men in the middle of the Browns defense.
The one positive that results from blowing up a franchise every 3-4 years and inserting a head coach who has the opposite personality as his predecessor is that competition and the subsequent improvement, or at least change, that follows suit will no doubt at least entertain us in the long weeks leading up to training camp. Both in terms of overall team improvement and in satisfying our daily fix for Browns information, the recent reports coming from Berea suggesting that several positions are up for grabs has been encouraging.
Call me an optimist, but let's face it. The NBA season ended last week and the Indians are boring.
Until training camp, we have to rely on ourselves for
So, both in the spirit of socialism and in
celebrating the fine art of plagarizing
, let's take a revised look at a series I like to call
As It Stands Now
. In the coming weeks, I'll cover all areas of the Browns roster heading into 2009, beginning with what I feel are the most essential positions that will determine success in 2009. We'll start with the Linebackers, because the core of a good 3-4 defensive unit demands strong play from this position. And as our run defense has shown us over the past decade, this is a position that could use some healthy competition.
As It Stands Again - Linebacker
The most idealistic parallel or at least blindly hopeful projection to make regarding what Eric Mangini can do for the Browns defense is to compare him to Marty Schottenheimer (excluding the postseason) and Bill Belichick (excluding everything he has accomplished post-Cleveland).
The idealist in me can envision Mangini returning the Cleveland D to the consistency of the Martyball days, in which the defense was never dominating, but played smart, tough, consistent ball. The Browns' defenses of the mid to late 80's never featured any superstar defenders, with the slight exception of a pre-freebase Chip Banks and possibly the hometown discount star varieties of Clay Mathews, Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield.
However, what these defenses lacked in eye-popping stats and athleticism, they made up in toughness and discipline. Although Mangini is often lampooned because of his tough guy approach to coaching, after watching the mess of a secondary that included the often lost Sean Jones roaming behind the cautious watch of Andra Davis, I am ready for a defense that is tough enough to attack, yet smart enough to figure out what an offense is doing. And of course, the best way for the Browns D to improve in 2009 is for Mangini to emulate Marty and become a teacher of the 3-4 defense, starting with the linebacking corps.
And speaking of football intelligence, did you hear about the draft? It turns out that Mangini loves the academic wonders.
In 2009, Mangini will need all the brainpower he can get to get the most out of his new team. In a nod to the pre-genius Bill Belichick, Mangini will have to rely on some of his experienced, older players to help implement and unfortunately run his specific brand of defense. Although it is poison for a Browns fan to admit this, the 1994 Belichick led-squad could be a perfect example of the toughness and intelligence the defense needs to model itself after.
Obviously, Eric Barton and David Bowens are not Pepper Johnson and Carl Banks. But then again, D'Qwell Jackson and Beau Bell are not exactly Mike and Eddie Johnson. In terms of athleticism and mileage, Barton and Bowens will likely not be staying in Cleveland long-term. I view Barton as the gateway to David Veikune or perhaps a future rookie linebacker, while Bowens will more likely be an injury fill-in all across the unit, unless he has to be counted on to make up for Kamerion Wimbley's inadequacies.
However, in looking at the current depth at the linebacker position, it is glaringly obvious that Mangini will have to become more of a chemist than football coach in order to get results. Recent reports from camp have indicated that Mangini is eager to move Wimbley around to take advantage of matchups. Considering the coachspeak that often emanates from padless training activities, this can be either encouraging or eternally frustrating. Is Mangini truly trying to maximize Wimbley's production by moving him around, or has he already realized the limits of his potential?
The same question could be asked of rookie David Veikune. Veikune, like Wimbley, is gaining his first exposure to the outside linebacker position at the NFL level. In terms of size and athletic ability, the two seem to match up favorably, yet early reports have suggested that Mangini feels that the ILB position is a better fit for Veikune. Unless Mangini is a talent speculator of Nostradamos proportions, it appears that either he aimed too high for the Rainbow Warrior, or has realized that the gaping hole at middle linebacker is a more dire situation than previously realized.
Naturally, all the above speculation on my part can easily be interpreted as Mangini trying to first evaluate his players and then allow the players to become experienced at several different positions. Of course, this versatility is a staple of the Belichick defenses, which Mangini is clearly trying to emulate. However, given the uncertainity of the position based on age, experience and undefined potential, Mangini will need to summon all of his coaching magic to make this position a success in 2009.
So what can we expect in 2009?
...D'Qwell Jackson continues to improve and further displays his rangy, solid tackling skills behind an improved and deeper defensive line. Eric Barton contributes on first and second downs, adds some much needed short yardage toughness and becomes a vocal leader on the unit. David Bowens takes some imaginary pressure off Kamerion Wimbley and the mixture of alignments allows both players to put up some modest sack totals. David Veikune gains some valuable learning experiences and becomes a potential starter heading into 2010. Kaluka Maivia makes the roster and plays well on special teams. Leon Williams doesn't get shot in a drive by.
...D'Qwell Jackson is left to fend for himself thanks to an ineffective Eric Barton and David Bowens. However, Jackson still leads the AFC in tackles, thanks to the undersized defensive ends playing in front of him. Kamerion Wimbley further regresses and is outplayed by Alex Hall, who leads the team with 4 1/2 sacks. Rookies Veikune and Maivia have trouble adjusting to the speed of the NFL and only contribute on special teams. Because of injury, Beau Bell is forced to play in December. Leon Williams is the next Browns player to face criminal charges.
Whichever path you feel the Browns linebackers will journey down in 2009, you have to admit that this position will likely determine whether the Browns D is truly rebuilding or just experiencing a slight revamp. As for the coming season, if Mangini can get another year out of Barton and Bowens, help to improve Jackson's all around game, turn Wimbley into an actual pass rushing threat and develop the rookies, the Browns defense will significantly improve on its 2008 production.
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