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Cleveland Browns Training Camp 2014: OLB Preview, Part 1 (Starting Rotation)

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

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 outside linebacker -- in Part 1, we look at the three players who will primarily be in the rotation.


8276_mediumPaul Kruger (#99)

6-4 | Weight: 270
Age: 28 | Experience: 6 years
College: Utah

Note: Could be a cap casualty in 2015 if he doesn't have a strong year.

The interesting story about Paul Kruger this offseason is how he has escaped death twice in his life. When it comes to football, though, Kruger needs to deliver a more impressive performance in 2014.

The Browns signed Kruger to a 5-year, $40.5 million deal last offseason. In his first year with the team, his first as a full-time starter in the NFL, Kruger registered just 4.5 sacks. In his previous two years as a rotational player in Baltimore, he registered 9 and 5.5 sacks, respectively.

To a degree, this can be considered a contract year for Kruger. His deal was structured in a way that he was uncuttable for the first two years of his deal -- his dead money amount in 2013 was $20 million, and his dead money amount this year is $11.8 million. Next year, that dead money drops to just $3.86 million. Kruger has a $8.2 million cap hit in 2015, so if the Browns cut him next year, they'd save $4.34 million in cap space that could be used to re-sign a player like...Jabaal Sheard, if he has a good season. Therefore, the stakes are high for Kruger to deliver. If he busts and gets cut, another team isn't going to pay him a very lucrative deal.

Note: Don't get me wrong -- Kruger is still a solid player, and it's not his fault that teams (in this case, the Browns) were willing to give him a massive contract last offseason.

Job Security: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%


8276_mediumJabaal Sheard (#97)

6-3 | Weight: 264
Age: 25 | Experience: 4 years
College: Pittsburgh

Note: Will be used as Mike Pettine's "Mario Williams" this season.

In his first year as an outside linebacker in 2013, Jabaal Sheard played pretty darn well. He started 13 games -- missing 3 due to injury -- and had 5.5 sacks on the year, but seemed to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. In his fourth year in the NFL, could Sheard break out thanks to new head coach Mike Pettine? In June, Pettine singled out Sheard as the guy who epitomizes the "Play Like a Brown" mentality:

"We talk about the play like a Brown attributes and we want a guy that plays like his hair is on fire and if I had to pick one guy that fits that, matches that, the first name I would come up with is Jabaal."

In Buffalo, Pettine helped spark Mario Williams again by moving him all over the place. For all intents and purposes, Pettine is banking on Sheard being his "Mario Williams."

Job Security: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%


8276_mediumBarkevious Mingo (#51)

6-4 | Weight: 240
Age: 23 | Experience: 2 years
College: LSU

Note: Defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil can't wait to play with the toy he wanted in Buffalo.

Barkevious Mingo probably could not be happier with his new coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil wanted the Bills to draft Mingo in 2013, but the Browns took him before they could. Still, Buffalo made due with what they had and led the NFL in sacks.

Mingo had a spotty rookie season. He finished the year with 5 sacks and showed off his impressive speed around the edge, but there were downsides to his game. He made mistakes in trying to play contain on the edge in the running game. Good offensive tackles were also able to contain him fairly well, as Mingo didn't demonstrate a good second move often enough.

There were early reports that Mingo might have gained a little weight this offseason, but reporters from Berea said that he didn't look any bigger. I think the bruised lung that Mingo suffered last preseason set his first-year development back a little, and then when he did get his opportunities, he was a bit overwhelmed. If Pettine and O'Neil are able to use him appropriately and get him to zone in on his niche -- rushing the quarterback -- then he can have a good sophomore season.

Final Roster Odds: 100%

Next up, we'll take a look at the backup outside linebackers. Today's poll asks which player you think will have the most sacks this season.