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Cleveland Browns Training Camp 2013: LB Preview (The Starting Four)


Today, our training camp preview moves to the theme of "Hard Hitting and Klutch Kicks," which will cover the linebackers and special teams units. We'll start with the linebacker -- in Part 1, we look at the starting four (from left to right) in Paul Kruger, D'Qwell Jackson, Craig Robertson, and Jabaal Sheard.


8276_mediumPaul Kruger (#99)

6-4 | Weight: 270
Age: 27 | Experience: 5 years
College: Utah

Note: Coming off of a Super Bowl win...received 5-year, $41 million deal...being depended on to bring the goods.

You have to give the Browns credit for trying. The big commitment that the new front office made this offseason was to improve the team's talent in the pass-rushing department, and they did that by signing the best guy available in Paul Kruger. Kruger agreed to a 5-year deal worth $41 million, which is high, but not as high as some people feared hearing into free agency.

Looking at Kruger from one perspective, everything sounds great about the guy. He posted career highs in 2012 with 42 tackles, 9 sacks, 6 passes defended, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble, to go along with 4.5 sacks in the postseason. The Browns were actually able to lure a potentially top-caliber player from within the division to go up against his former team twice a year. Pro Football Focus said that he, "led their pass rushing productivity charts for all 3-4 outside linebackers." What could possibly go wrong? He could be a complete bust.

It's no secret that Baltimore's defense has been able to plug guys into their defense effectively, but how many players have left Baltimore and gone on to have dominant careers? Also, Kruger was a part-time player in 2012. For the money he is making in Cleveland, the number of reps he receives is bound to go up. That could be good, but we don't know how he'll hold up to more snaps in a game. Will he be as effective late in a game when the defense really needs a big-time sack? Also, Kruger's productivity dropped off when Terrell Suggs was not playing. Does Kruger need a big-time player with him in order to be effective? I'm excited about what Kruger brings to the table, but for the reasons mentioned, I am "cautiously optimistic" until proven otherwise.

Job Security: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%


8276_mediumD'Qwell Jackson (#52)

6-0 | Weight: 240
Age: 29 | Experience: 8 years
College: Maryland

Note: Veteran of the defense...will be counted on as the underrated key to Horton's defense.

With Phil Dawson and Joshua Cribbs leaving in free agency, D'Qwell Jackson becomes the longest-tenured member of the Browns. He will not be a free agent until 2017, but will make $8+ million against the cap from 2014 onward.

I think Jackson's job is safe long-term, but it's still important for him to deliver as the team switches back to the 3-4 defense. If Ray Horton sticks around and doesn't feel like Jackson is playing like the dominant inside force he needs, the team could seek an upgrade next year.

Fortunately, Jackson has now been going strong (in terms of durability) for two straight years. He may have reached his peak in terms of potential, but it's a pretty good peak to have: he'll make all of the tackles you need, can generate some pressure, and plays most facets of the game at an above average level. In Arizona, Horton had Daryl Washington step up to be among the league leaders in tackles and sacks at his position. Jackson is up to the challenge to take on a similar role.

Job Security: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%


8276_mediumCraig Robertson (#53)

6-1 | Weight: 229
Age: 25 | Experience: 2 years
College: North Texas

Note: Was an undrafted free agent in 2012 for Browns...only played as a nickel linebacker.

This is the first defensive position -- right inside linebacker -- that I have covered so far and thought, "this definitely should not be set in stone." Eventually, we'll have the same predicament at two positions in the secondary, but for now, let's wonder about right inside linebacker. Is Craig Robertson just winning this starting role by default?

For as much as the outside linebacker position was addressed this offseason, the inside linebacker position was neglected. Rumors are that the team isn't so hot on James-Michael Johnson, who may be viewed as more of a 4-3 type of guy. You also have L.J. Fort and Tank Carder as contenders for the position, but that is it. It's not a back-breaker, as you can't expect perfection at every position, but I don't think Robertson's job is "locked in."

Robertson will head into training camp as the favorite, having had a lot of nickel experience in 2012 as a rookie. He did well for a rookie and made some memorable plays, but he also missed 13 tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. His experience in coverage from last year should help his odds. Robertson has been running with the first-team defense during the offseason programs, so we'll see if he is able to hold his own throughout the duration of camp.

Job Security: C+
Final Roster Odds: 95%


8276_mediumJabaal Sheard (#97)

6-2 | Weight: 255
Age: 24 | Experience: 3 years
College: Pittsburgh

Note: Trying to transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker...can he drop into coverage well?

We'll see how much of a challenge this will be for Jabaal Sheard to transition from being a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker. I think Sheard will benefit as a pass rusher from having a very talented-looking defensive line in front of him and Paul Kruger on the other side.

My big question for Sheard boils down to how well he will do when he has to drop back into coverage. For me, it's one of those things that I'm really not confident in evaluating until we see how he does during the regular season. Sheard shouldn't have to completely abandon his 4-3 experience, though. The Browns will continue to go with some four-man fronts in Ray Horton's defense, and when that happens, I'd expect Sheard to be one of those outside guys with his hand on the ground.

Sheard's job security isn't as as high because of the fact that Barkevious Mingo, the team's 6th overall pick, is behind him on the depth chart. There is no doubt these guys will work in a rotation, but if Sheard's transition doesn't go so well, does Mingo's playing time continue to increase as the season progresses?

Job Security: A-
Final Roster Odds: 100%

Next up, we'll take a look at some of the backups at outside linebacker, including Barkevious Mingo and Quentin Groves.

It was tough to come up with a poll question today, because I will be asking about the ROLB and RILB starting positions in my next two posts/polls. Therefore, today, I will ask about your expectations for Paul Kruger.