In Part 2 of our training camp preview on inside linebackers for the Cleveland Browns, we look at a trio of players who all have a pretty decent shot at making the roster, considering the team has decided not to go with undrafted free agents at the position.
4. ZAC DILES - COMPETING TO BE A BACKUP INSIDE LINEBACKER
Zac Diles participated in the Browns' minicamp session prior to the draft on a tryout basis, and the team signed him to a one-year deal after it was over.
Diles is a well-traveled veteran in the NFL. He entered the league in 2007 as a 7th round draft pick by the Houston Texans, where he stayed through 2010. Since then, though, he hasn't been able to latch on to a team for more than a year, bouncing between the Rams, Buccaneers, Colts, Titans, Chiefs, Titans [again], and now the Browns.
Diles started 30 games with the Texans over a three-year span. Since departing the Texans, though, he has just 15 combined tackles over the past three seasons. With such little action in recent years, he should be penciled in as a veteran camp body. I suppose you can't discount a guy with the most starting experience on the team at inside linebacker, outside of Karlos Dansby.
Final Roster Odds: 40%
5. DARIUS EUBANKS - COMPETING TO BE A BACKUP INSIDE LINEBACKER
Last year, Darius Eubanks was an undrafted free agent who spent camp with the Minnesota Vikings. During the preseason, he registered 8 tackles and 1 forced fumble, receiving a positive grade of 2.3 from PFF. At the time, though, he was listed as a safety. The Browns signed him to their practice squad, and I immediately noted that it seemed like he'd be a better fit at linebacker.
Eubanks was promoted to the 53-man roster half-way through the season. Injuries to Craig Robertson and Tank Carder suddenly paved the way for Eubanks to make his first career start against the Jacksonville Jaguars. In a two-game span, Eubanks registered 10 tackles. He played sparingly the rest of the season, but his limited action left people intrigued. Several members of the media, including Kevin Jones of Browns.com, were impressed with what Eubanks showcased in the offseason programs so far:
"Out of all the linebackers during OTAs and minicamp, Eubanks looked the most improved. ... He’s quick in coverage and instinctive in route recognition."
Could Eubanks be the type of player who not only makes the team, but makes the roster over Robertson as the primary backup to Dansby and Kirksey?
Final Roster Odds: 40%
6. TANK CARDER - COMPETING TO BE A BACKUP INSIDE LINEBACKER
Before Darius Eubanks got his shot last year, Tank Carder finally got his crack at a starting role...and then promptly got hurt half-way through his first start. You have to feel for a guy when that happens.
Over the past two years, Carder has been a staple on the Browns' special teams units -- not necessarily as a leading tackler, but he has role in the protection units. Chris Tabor, the Browns' special teams coordinator, might prefer to keep Carder around. If it comes down to his defensive talent, I don't know if we've seen enough out of Carder to judge him fairly.
Thankfully for Carder, when the Bills drafted him in the 5th round in 2012 and then waived him at the end of training camp, Jim O'Neil and Mike Pettine were not with the club. Can Carder do enough in camp to stand out among the veteran and the youngster?
Final Roster Odds: 50%
Next up, we'll look at the Browns' special teams units. Our final poll on the linebackers asks which of the three players from today's preview you expect to contribute the most on defense this season.