In part one of our linebacker preview for training camp, we questioned how much of an impact the starting unit could make and also looked at the team's two draft picks, James-Michael Johnson and Emmanuel Acho.
The Browns will probably only keep six linebackers on the 53-man roster, but since Scott Fujita will be suspended for the first three games of the season, one of the guys in today's preview should temporarily make the roster (before possibly being shuffled over to the practice squad). The six candidates in part two of our preview include Quinton Spears, Benjamin Jacobs,
Brian Smith, Craig Robertson, JoJo Dickson, and L.J. Fort.
7. QUINTON SPEARS - BACKUP/SPECIAL TEAMS LINEBACKER
Spears signed with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent last year and spent all of training camp with them. He was waived before the start of the season, and Cleveland decided to add him to their 53-man roster ahead of all of the undrafted free agent linebackers they had in camp.
Fun fact: did you know that except for a three-game stretch in which he was out with a hamstring injury, Spears was active on gameday the entire season? He never saw the field on defense as far as I can tell. Instead, the team liked what he had to offer on special teams, where he finished with eight tackles on the year.
For that reason, Spears might be the favorite to make the final roster. The case against him? If the coaching staff intends on having the rookies, JMJ and Acho, play on special teams, then Spears really isn't needed. He supposedly has quickness but is raw as a pass rusher. Unfortunately for Spears, since he played so much on special teams last year, he'll never be eligible for the practice squad.
Final Roster Odds: 40%
8. BENJAMIN JACOBS - BACKUP MIDDLE LINEBACKER
Jacobs was an undrafted free agent brought in by the Browns last year, so he is returning for his second training camp with the team. He was with the Browns all season -- first on the practice squad, and then on the active roster for the final five games of the year. Even though he played in those final five games (presumably on special teams), he did not register any stats.
Jacobs is billed as being smart and a hard hitter who can make a difference on special teams. His downside is that he isn't very fast and does not offer much of a threat as a pass rusher. He was behind Titus Brown on the depth chart last year and was called up after Scott Fujita landed on the injured reserve. With JMJ ahead of him, Jacobs is going to have to make the team by being an asset on special teams.
Final Roster Odds: 30%
Practice Squad Odds: 75%
9. BRIAN SMITH - BACKUP OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
UPDATE: There was a roster listing error on some pages; Smith is actually no longer with the team.
Due to the team's lack of depth at linebacker last year, it was originally believed by many fans that Smith, by default, would make the 53-man roster. Instead, he was waived and was not even added to the team's practice squad. When Jacobs was promoted from the practice squad in late-November, the club decided to sign Smith to the practice squad. When Brown landed on injured reserve with two games to go, Smith was called up to the active roster. Like Jacobs, he did not record any statistics. The scouting report on Smith says that he is a fundamentally sound player, but not much of an impact player. You never know how these youngsters will mature in the offseason, so I've given Spears, Jacobs, and Smith each a relatively equal shot at making the final roster. Final Roster Odds: 25%
Practice Squad Odds: 75%
9. CRAIG ROBERTSON - BACKUP OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
Robertson is an unusual case. I expected to find some information on which team he was with in the NFL prior to the Browns signing him to their practice squad late last season, but here's the thing: he wasn't on any other team, which would mean he was not in anyone's training camp. My *assumption* was, "hey...this guy had to be invited for a tryout or something." I Googled "Craig Robertson tryout Browns," and sure enough, he was given a tryout. So there you go.
I looked for a scouting report on Robertson, and this is what I found. Usually a scouting report gives pros and cons, but this one seemed to stick with just the cons. Ouch. Cleveland must have seen some glimmer of hope with Robertson to sign him to the practice squad last year, though. We'll see what it is when training camp commences.
Final Roster Odds: <1%
Practice Squad Odds: 25%
10. JOJO DICKSON - BACKUP MIDDLE LINEBACKER
Dickson has had a bit of an unusual journey in the NFL so far. His senior season of college was in 2010, when he suffered a broken ankle. He was not drafted, but signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars right after the lockout ended. After only a couple of days in their training camp, he was waived.
He did not surface again in the NFL until two weeks before the 2012 draft, when the Jaguars signed him again. Then, right as the draft was taking place, the Jaguars released him again. Originally, it was believed that Dickson needed to recover from his ankle injury, hence why he was waived in 2011. He had rehabbed his way back and had a pretty good showing at Idaho's Pro Day in March, so it was unclear why he was waived a second time so soon. Now he'll try to catch on with Cleveland, who signed him in May after Andrew Sweat retired.
Final Roster Odds: <1%
Practice Squad Odds: 10%
11. L.J. FORT - UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT MIDDLE LINEBACKER
Fort is the only undrafted free agent linebacker from 2012 who will be at training camp this season. The Saints originally wanted to try him out, but soon after, the Browns called and offered him a contract. He accepted. The Redskins and Ravens also tried to get him.
It's not hard to understand why Fort was a "hot commodity" for an undrafted free agent. He led the nation with 184 tackles during his senior year. Regardless of the competition, that sounds like someone who is durable and always around the football. He is only listed at No. 12 on this list because he has the least experience at the NFL level; I'm putting his odds higher than the two guys above him, though. Here are a few articles on Fort: Link 1 | Link 2
Final Roster Odds: <5%
Practice Squad Odds: 50%
That concludes our previews on the linebackers! Up next, we'll tackle the team's core special teams players. Until then, I'll leave you with another poll: which player from today's preview would you like to see make the 53-man roster?