After covering the inside linebackers a few days ago, it's time to look at the outside linebackers. Again, many of these players are interchangeable at the positions, but with fifteen players in camp and considering players' size and experience, it made sense to have the eight linebackers at inside linebacker and the seven today at outside linebacker.
Today's preview presents the most interesting training camp battles this season, as you'll see later on down. For now, let's start with our former first-rounder...
1. KAMERION WIMBLEY - STARTING OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
One player can be the difference between an average defense and an above average defense, and for the Browns that player is Kamerion Wimbley. Wimbley was drafted for his pass-rushing abilities and showed a lot of promise in his rookie season, registering 11 sacks. Then, something happened -- the opposition realized Wimbley only had one move.
Over the past two years, time after time, we have watched Wimbley try to race around an offensive tackle. It's too predictable, and therefore has become easy to defend. Wimbley has a total of nine sacks over the past two years, and from memory most of those came on plays where it was the quarterbacks fault for holding onto the ball too long, almost like a coverage sack.
In our dreams, we can only hope that Wimbley being one-dimensional was a result of horrible coaching from the previous regime. Eric Mangini and Rob Ryan have already made it known that they believe in Wimbley's abilities, but then again, you'll rarely hear a coach say that improving a player's arsenal is hopeless. Wimbley needs to develop better counter and second moves, and it'd be nice to see him somewhere else on the field too -- either at the other outside linebacker position, or at inside linebacker on certain downs. By the end of this season, we might be able to make the official "boom vs. bust" ruling on Wimbley.
Last November, rufio analyzed how the Browns can effectively use Wimbley.
Job Security: A+
Player Quality: C (potential to skyrocket to the A range)
Final Roster Odds: 100%
A little over two months ago, this was a comment I made on this site:
Bowens vs. Hall vs. Veikune should be one of the best training camp battles to watch, as I believe any one of them can win the job. Experience vs. Last Year’s Hype vs. Second Rounder This Year.
That comment still stands, and unless someone wants to convince me otherwise, heading into training camp I am giving each of them an equal (33%) chance at winning the starting role opposite Wimbley. In truth the "starter" title might not hold much relevance in the end, as it could end up being a consistent rotation of two or all three players. While not a concrete one, my personal prediction of who will win the job is listed at No. 2 below...
2. ALEX HALL - COMPETING FOR STARTING OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
If I'm going under the assumption that this will be a fair three-way competition, then the fact that Alex Hall was a former seventh-round pick shouldn't apply much into the equation (meaning he should be given a fair chance). In limited action last season, Hall registered three sacks, proving that his "shining moments" from training camp weren't flukes.
Much of Hall's abilities may still be raw, but he has great body length at 6'5 (our tallest linebacker) and seems has that knack our team needs in getting to the quarterback. What I liked most about him is that unlike Wimbley, he didn't seem to rely solely on sprinting around the opposing team's offensive tackle for his production.
Bowens has proven that he's an average player. Veikune is a rookie and might not see work at both inside and outside linebacker to see where he fits best. Hall has reportedly intrigued the coaches already, and I'd rather see Mangini start a player with more potential. Better put, I'd rather see Mangini almost do everything opposite of how Crennel did them.
Job Security: F
Player Quality: TBD
Final Roster Odds: 95% (outside chance if Hall does look like a seventh-rounder to Mangini)
3. DAVID BOWENS - COMPETING FOR STARTING OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
In the offseason, Mangini added two former New York Jet linebackers with experience -- Eric Barton and David Bowens. The way I am looking at it is that Barton is the starter who was brought over, while Bowens is the insurance policy. That is similar to the defensive line, where Kenyon Coleman is the starter brought over, while C.J. Mosley is the insurance policy.
Bowens was a solid contributor for the Jets last season, registering 40 tackles and 4 sacks. Looking at Bowens' history, that is exactly the type of production that should be expected from Bowens each year, showing a sign of consistency. Mangini stated that Bowens would come to camp as an outside linebacker, but could always move to inside linebacker if needed. In New York, Bowens made five starts at inside linebacker for Mangini.
Bowens has been in the league for 11 years, and while he might still be an upgrade over Willie McGinest, I'd rather see the veteran slip into a reserve role and act as a mentor for the up-and-coming Hall and Veikune.
Player Quality: C
Final Roster Odds: 98%
4. DAVID VEIKUNE - COMPETING FOR STARTING OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
On paper, there's a way you could spin it where you're asking, "shouldn't Veikune be the favorite to win the competition?" Second-round picks aren't a longshot to start, and he's competing against a veteran who isn't elite and an unproven player in Hall, right?
Here is how I look at it -- outside linebacker or a defensive end/linebacker hybrid was a position many of us felt the Browns were in desperate need of when the draft came around. And yet, with several big-name linebackers on the board in several instances, the Browns just passed right by them until their fourth pick in the draft. If Mangini felt he needed a starting linebacker for this season in the draft, wouldn't that have been our No. 1 priority? Based on where Veikune was selected, I smell a one-two year developmental process before he becomes a starter.
"I love the guy's motor," said Mangini. "This guy's got toughness, aggressiveness and a smoothness to the way that he changes directions and run games. I think he could play both outside and inside for us moving forward."
Ideally, it'd be nice to see him progress quickly and split time with Hall at outside linebacker while also seeing some reps on the inside.
Player Quality: TBD
Final Roster Odds: 100%
5. LEON WILLIAMS - BACKUP OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
Usually it was the utilization of rookies by Crennel that I complained about, but Leon Williams is somewhat of a veteran now. A fourth-round pick in 2006, Williams had a solid 2007 campaign, recording 85 tackles and four sacks. Heading into last year, I thought Beau Bell might cut into his playing time at inside linebacker a little bit, but not too much. Bell was never used, and despite the frustration of watching Andra Davis, Williams' reps only went down.
After seeing reps at outside linebacker last season and the team's youth on the inside (Bell/Maiava), Williams' roster spot might be in jeopardy. His best chance at making an impression is by proving he can come in during spot situations and rush the passer. The aspect I favor most about Williams though is his experience covering tight ends, something I believe he's done more effectively than any of our other linebackers over the past several years.
Player Quality: C+
Final Roster Odds: 75%
6. TITUS BROWN - BACKUP OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
You might not remember, but when the Browns announced the seven players who had made their practice squad on September 1 last year, Titus Brown was on that list. He spent camp with the Miami Dolphins, and after he was waived, the Browns signed him. Brown was a four-year letterman at Mississippi State with 170 career tackles and 18.5 sacks.
Late in the season, Brown was added to the 53-man roster, playing in a total of four games (I assume mostly on special teams). He recorded one tackle in Week 16 against the Cincinnati Bengals. While in camp with the Dolphins last season, head coach Tony Sparano had this to say:
"I think when you're watching the tape, or really when you're out here in practice, sometimes practice can go on and on and on and at times kind of feels like you're just running plays, where all of a sudden somebody jumps out at you and does something different," Sparano said when asked what he means by getting a "feel" for a player.
"Then you start to feel him once and then he jumps out again and you feel him again. Then you go back to the film and you really watch this guy and you see that he's been playing pretty consistent. That's happened to me in the last couple weeks, really this week with a few guys. There's a young kid out there right now that I'm starting to feel and it's Titus Brown. I've seen him kind of do some things in the last couple days that have piqued my interest that way."
Unfortunately for Brown, it wasn't enough of a "feel" in the end. Could Mangini get that same type of feeling from Brown in camp this season though?
Final Roster Odds: <5%
Practice Squad Odds: 50%
7. PHILLIP HUNT - UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
I guarantee you there is one person out there rooting for Phillip Hunt, and that is Dawgs By Nature member P.HUNTS#1FAN. I don't kid.
Mocking Dan from Mocking the Draft had a scouting report on Hunt from before the draft, where he projected Hunt to be selected in the fifth round. Here it is for your convenience:
Strengths: Hunt played a variety of positions at Houston, lining up at defensive end, tackle and linebacker. He was best at end where he could use his quickness to beat offensive linemen off the ball. Hunt does a good job of dipping his shoulder to get under linemen and gain leverage. He's a strong player throughout his frame and probably won't need to get much bigger in the pros. Has long arms, which helps him make open-field tackles. Very productive behind the line of scrimmage. Hustles on every play. No known character problems.
Weaknesses: The biggest question about Hunt is whether or not he has the agility to play linebacker. He's too small for end, unless a Tampa-2 team drafts him. He doesn't appear to have the best change-of-direction ability and could struggle to make plays down the line. At the beginning of his career, he could be a liability in pass coverage. Needs to work harder getting off blocks by tackles. He can use his strength against tight ends and running backs, but can get overpowered by tackles.
Final word: Hunt finished an impressive career at Houston with a 53.5 tackles for a loss and 34.5 sacks. However, he doesn't have the size to stay at his main college position of defensive end is likely an outside linebacker at the next level. To be more than a pass rush specialist, he'll have to demonstrate more agility and change of direction skill than he did in college.
If you feel like you might become a die-hard Phillip Hunt fan too, then head on over to Buffalo Rumblings to see a detailed scouting report they did on Hunt prior to the draft as well.
Final Roster Odds: <5%
Practice Squad Odds: 50%
OLB Position Quality (Overall): C-
If Wimbley remains the same player from the past two seasons and none of the other three competing linebackers can emerge as a frontrunner, this could be the weakest position on the team. I have faith that new coaching staff will change Wimbley's game for the better, and that the rest of the players fill in well enough to bring the Browns back to being a respectable pass rushing team.