In Part 3 of our linebacker preview for training camp, we look at the Cleveland Browns' backup inside linebackers, who may also contend to start at Craig Robertson's spot: L.J. Fort, Tank Carder, and James-Michael Johnson.
7. L.J. FORT - BACKUP INSIDE LINEBACKER
Fans got pretty excited last year in training camp about L.J. Fort after learning that he was a coveted undrafted free agent who led the nation with 184 tackles in 2011. Ultimately, he ended up in camp with Cleveland and made the final roster.
Fort actually started the team's opening game of the season in 2012 against Philadelphia, registering 3 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 interception. Not bad for a debut, although he did drop what could have been a game-sealing interception in the fourth quarter against Michael Vick.
Despite an impressive first showing, Fort never saw the field regularly for the remainder of the season, focusing mostly on special teams instead. He was labeled as the primary backup middle linebacker to D'Qwell Jackson in the 4-3 defense, and filled in once when he was injured. Living up to his tackling reputation, he had 10 tackles in that short stretch of time against the Giants.
Although Craig Robertson seems to be the favorite to start alongside D'Qwell Jackson in the 3-4 defense, all three of the guys in today's preview should be candidates for that role. If Fort impresses with his tackling again, maybe he will unseat Robertson, who could then go back to being the team's nickel linebacker again.
Final Roster Odds: 80%
8. TANK CARDER - BACKUP INSIDE LINEBACKER
We did not get to see much of Tank Carder on defense last year, and he was with the Buffalo Bills in training camp. The Bills had actually drafted him in the fifth-round of the 2012 NFL Draft, which isn't too far behind from where James-Michael Johnson was drafted.
Much of the insight from today's preview of backup inside linebacker comes from an article that the Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto wrote a few weeks ago. Pluto cited Carder and Fort as the team's backup inside linebackers during the offseason programs, so that's the expectation I have going into training camp.
Carder would seem to have a better chance at making a splash defensively in 2013 than he did as a rookie. In terms of roster odds, his contributions on special teams could help his roster odds as well.
Final Roster Odds: 75%
9. JAMES-MICHAEL JOHNSON - BACKUP INSIDE LINEBACKER
There will be 90 players on the Browns' roster heading into training camp, and the one I might be the most puzzled about, in terms of where he stands, is James-Michael Johnson.
A fourth-round pick in 2012, Johnson missed the first four games of the season with an injury, and then returned as a backup for several weeks. He finished the season starting eight games, due to the injuries to linebacker Scott Fujita.
Johnson had one standout game against the Chargers, but other than that, did not really stand out on the field to make you think, "I can't wait to see what he brings to the table next year." I felt the same way about Kaluka Maiava for years, and he never made a big-time splash either before leaving this offseason.
Johnson was the target of Pluto's aforementioned article, saying things like, "[Johnson] seems nowhere in the plans and is likely to be cut. ... he is lost in this system." ESPN Rumor Central's Brent Sobleski had tweeted, "Recent report on James-Michael Johnson’s status with Browns appears to stem from the LB not picking up system quickly enough, per source." Johnson is aware of the reports, and even tweeted out a link to an article earlier today about it:
Johnson played inside linebacker in college, but if he's not getting the reps early on in camp, the team may not care to stash him on the roster, in the event someone else (younger) stands out or if they go out and sign a veteran.
Final Roster Odds: 75%
Next up, we'll take a look at some of the unknown backup linebackers on the roster. Today's poll asks who you want to start at inside linebacker next to D'Qwell Jackson.