In part 2 of our 2016 Cleveland Browns training camp preview on the team's inside linebackers, we discuss Tank Carder, Justin Tuggle, and Dominique Alexander.
4. TANK CARDER - SPECIAL TEAMS INSIDE LINEBACKER
Height: 6-2 | Weight: 235
Age: 27 | Experience: 5 years
College: Texas Christian
Note: Has primarily been a special teams ace for the past 4 years ... Was labeled as best blitzer pre-camp last year, then never used.
Tank Carder has survived multiple regime changes, seemingly side-by-side with special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, as he enters his fifth year in the NFL now.
Last year, defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil talked about how he was actually going to use Carder on defense in blitz packages because he was the team's best blitzer. It turns out he was full of it -- Carder finished the year with 6 tackles on defense and 10 tackles on special teams. I don't think re-uniting with Ray Horton will cause Carder to be used more on defense, as the likes of Joe Schobert, Scooby Wright, and Justin Tuggle will probably try to fill the third linebacker role in camp as the "new" toys in town.
Carder has always been viewed as a core special teamer who isn't a gunner, and that's not going to change. He signed a two-year deal this offseason, but the team could cut him without carrying much dead money. I think he'll benefit from Craig Robertson's roster departure, as Robertson was a key special teams contributor too, and Tabor would probably prefer not to have such a big turnover in one year. Schobert and Wright will be expected to contribute on special teams, but can both of them do well enough in that area to make Carder expendable?
One interesting side note: the Browns briefly said that they think Carder can also help them at outside linebacker. For now, I'll just log that in the same category as O'Neil's blitzing comment from a year ago.
Final Roster Odds: 60%
5. JUSTIN TUGGLE - BACKUP INSIDE LINEBACKER
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 249
Age: 26 | Experience: 4 years
College: Kansas State
Note: Spent the first three years of his career with Texans ... Started 11 games ... Was a backup/special teamer in 2015 ... Depth player.
Justin Tuggle was an undrafted free agent in 2013 and signed with the Houston Texans, where he spent the past three seasons. He's appeared in 42 career games with 11 starts. Last year, he registered 13 tackles on defense, recovered 1 fumble, and registered 5 tackles on special teams.
Tuggle has the most experience with respect to playing time on defense in the NFL, after Demario Davis and Christian Kirksey. That might give him a slight edge in terms of picking up the team's defensive system faster, but Tuggle is a player who is only going to make this team if the team's youth (Joe Schobert, Scooby Wright, and Dominique Alexander) show they aren't ready. I'll call Tuggle an "insurance policy."
Final Roster Odds: 30%
6. DOMINIQUE ALEXANDER - UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT INSIDE LINEBACKER
Height: 6-0 | Weight: 235
Age: 21 | Experience: Rookie
Note: Undrafted free agent ... Projected to be a 4th/5th rounder ... One of the best run defenders in his draft class.
Dominique Alexander is the team's only undrafted free agent inside linebacker this year, and he's another one of those players who fans can get behind in terms of value.
Dane Bruglar of CBS Sports had given Alexander a 4th/5th round grade heading into the draft. He led the Sooners in tackles during his final two years of college. He has been praised for having stout run defense, but panned for his instincts when trying to make a play amidst a crowd of players. Per Pro Football Focus, Alexander "held opponents to 2.69 yards per run on plays where he was the primary tackler, 8th-best in this LB class."
Heading into camp, I'm more excited to see what Alexander can contribute defensively than I am with Tank Carder and Justin Tuggle. If the Browns believe that Alexander can be a big contributor in defending the run right away, then perhaps they'll pair him with Christian Kirksey for a rotational role in sub-packages. That is a big "if," though.
Final Roster Odds: 30%
Today's poll asks if you could only keep two players out of Scooby Wright, Tank Carder, Justin Tuggle, and Dominique Alexander, who would you keep?