clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cleveland Browns Training Camp 2015: OLB Preview, Part 1

Ken Blaze-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: 29 | Experience: 7 years
College: Utah

Note: Led the Browns in sacks in 2014. ... Emerged as the team's best pass rusher and proved worthy of contract.

In last year's training camp preview for outside linebackers, three players were contending for significant reps: Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard, and Barkevious Mingo. In that preview, I asked fans to vote on which of the three players they expected to have the most sacks in 2014. 3% said Kruger, 71% said Sheard, and 27% said Mingo. At the end of the year, Kruger had 11 sacks, while Sheard and Mingo only had 2 each.

After Kruger underachieved in his first year with the club, I put it out there that the Browns would have more flexibility to cut Kruger in 2015 if he continued to play at a mediocre level. While he wasn't a Pro Bowl player last year, he generated a consistent pass rush without going through any extended periods of in-season slumps. He also forced four fumbles on the season. Kruger is in the third year of his five-year deal with the club and remains the only definitive starter at the position, so his job is safe.

Job Security: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%


8276_mediumBarkevious Mingo (#51)

6-4 | Weight: 240
Age: 24 | Experience: 3 years
College: LSU

Note: Needs to prove himself again to start. ... Coming off of a shoulder injury/surgery.

After recording 5 sacks as a rookie, Barkevious Mingo's playing time increased in 2014 but the pass-rushing specialist only had 2 sacks all year. There was a legitimate excuse for some of his difficulties, though, as Mingo had to play through a shoulder injury all season after hurting it against Pittsburgh in the opener.

Mingo wore a harness last year that basically only allowed him to use one arm. "It's been tough for him having to play," head coach Mike Pettine said last season, adding, "Having an arm harnessed, strapped down, it has an effect."

Mingo's role in 2014 also changed, as he was asked to drop into coverage and shadow tight ends more often. His run defense also improved from his rookie year. Pettine spoke at the end of last season about the "thankless" jobs that Mingo was tasked with and how he responded well to them:

He did a lot of those thankless jobs, and he did them well. He graded out well, at times. I just know everybody wants to just look at sack production, and for what we ask of him, that's not his primary job.

With the shoulder back to 100% for training camp and Jabaal Sheard out of the picture, could Mingo be in store for a breakout year, or will the rookie come in and overshadow him? The coaching staff appears to be trying to motivate Mingo to lift his game. At the end of minicamp, defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil said Mingo would have a role in sub-packages on defense, but that he is going to have to earn playing time on early downs.

Job Security: C
Final Roster Odds:


8276_mediumNate Orchard (#48)

Height: 6-4 | Weight: 255
Age: 22 | Experience: Rookie
College: Utah

Note: Had 18.5 sacks as a senior. ... Brings a mature presence. ... Could end up starting.

Nate Orchard was the team's first pick of the second round of this year's draft. Cleveland was originally on the clock at No. 43 overall in the second round, but traded back because they felt Orchard would still be available at No. 51, despite having 18.5 sacks last season. GM Ray Farmer was right, and by moving back eight spots, he got his player and helped set up the accumulation of a few more picks.

Orchard was mentored last year by now-teammate Paul Kruger, both of whom went to college at Utah. Here is what Dane Bruglar of CBS Sports said about Orchard prior to the draft:

Orchard arrived at Utah as a wide receiver named Fakahafua and leaves as one of the school’s most decorated defensive players with the name of Orchard after taking the last name of his guardian parents. He was highly active in the Utes defense, lining up on both sides of the line and playing in space, although he’s very green dropping into coverage and works best getting upfield. Orchard has natural flexibility to bend the edge and finds ways to slip blocks, but struggles to get much of a push, lacking a clear power element to his game to force the issue or overwhelm blockers. He might be ideally suited as a "wide-nine" defensive end at the next level with his hand-on-the-ground, but can also stand up in a 3-4 scheme -- solid third round prospect.

Orchard comes off as a very mature player and might be the favorite to start opposite Paul Kruger heading into camp.

Final Roster Odds: 100%

Next up, we'll take a look at the backup outside linebackers. Today's poll asks who you think will see more snaps in Week 1 -- Nate Orchard or Barkevious Mingo?