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Cleveland Browns Training Camp 2018: LB Preview, Part 1

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A look at the Browns’ top four linebackers heading into training camp.

NFL: Cleveland Browns-OTA Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time to look at the linebackers on the Cleveland Browns’ roster as we preview the team leading up to training camp. We start with the top four players at the position in Part 1, made more complex by the addition of Mychal Kendricks.


NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

1. Jamie Collins - Starting Strongside Linebacker

Height: 6-3 | Weight: 250 lbs | Age: 28
Experience: 6 years | College: Southern Mississippi

How has Jamie Collins’ time with the Browns been thus far? When he joined the team in 2016, he looked like a guy who had a positive trickle down effect on the rest of the team before looking a bit disinterested later in the year. He signed a lucrative contract extension last offseason for 4 years, $50 million. After starting the first two games of the year, he suffered a concussion at the end of Week 2’s game against the Ravens.

Returning from missing three games, Collins then played through Week 10, when he suffered a season-ending MCL injury. He finished the year with 31 tackles, 1 sack and 1 interception. It is truly polarizing to judge Collins. He needs to be significantly better in coverage, stop missing tackles, and has to get to the quarterback more. He actually had a terrible grade by PFF of 35.9 in 2017, one of the worst in football. James Burgess performed better than him as his replacement, in my opinion. But I still believe Collins is a very high-caliber linebacker, so I’m not throwing in the towel on him.

Final Roster Odds: 100%


NFL: International Series-Cleveland Browns Practice Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

2. Christian Kirksey - Starting Weakside Linebacker

Height: 6-2 | Weight: 235 lbs | Age: 25
Experience: 5 years | College: Iowa

Christian Kirksey remained an iron man for the Browns last year, playing every single snap. Despite moving from inside linebacker to outside linebacker, he finished with nearly identical stats in 2017 than he did in 2016: 138 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Kirksey also received a contract extension last offseason -- 4 years, $38 million, which will keep him with the club through 2021.

Kirksey is one of the players trying to get behind a turnaround season for Cleveland, and last month, he boldly proclaimed that the Browns will make the playoffs this year.

Many will think that is absurd to say after 1-15 and 0-16, but a lot of things have come together in year three of the rebuild for this team. Kirksey has always been just an above average player in my mind, and after the team added Mychal Kendricks, linebackers coach Blake Williams indicated that he would first see reps at weakside linebacker. Could that cut into Kirksey’s playing time in 2018?

Final Roster Odds: 100%


NFL: Cleveland Browns at Los Angeles Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

3. Joe Schobert - Starting Middle Linebacker

Height: 6-1 | Weight: 245 lbs | Age: 24
Experience: 3 years | College: Wisconsin

The emergence of Joe Schobert in 2017 was one of the highlights of the Browns’ 2017 season. He didn’t even appear to be in much consideration for a starting role in training camp until veteran Tank Carder suffered a torn ACL. Even then, the assumption was that Schobert may play 30% of the snaps each week, with the middle linebacker position not being an everydown player in Gregg Williams’ defense.

Instead, Schobert played every single snap of the season en route to a league-leading 144 tackles. He was also the only player to represent the Browns in the Pro Bowl (and funny enough, picked up on Joe Thomas streak of the team having a Wisconsin player represented) and a lot of his tackles led to stops against the run:

After the addition of Mychal Kendricks, many assumed that Schobert could be replaced in the starting lineup. At just 24 years old, though, the coaching staff says they were very impressed with his intelligence and ability to diagnose opposing offenses last year. Even if he wasn’t making the tackle, they believe his calls at the line helped the defensive line make plays. What the coaching staff wants to see from him this year is to start making more game-changing plays. I agree with the sentiment that Schobert didn’t come off as some elite player last year, but you can’t deny the stunning progress from year one to year two, so I believe he has more than earned the right to start again in 2018.

Final Roster Odds: 100%


NFL: Cleveland Browns-Minicamp Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

4. Mychal Kendricks - Fourth Linebacker

Height: 6-0 | Weight: 240 lbs | Age: 27
Experience: 7 years | College: California

The Browns won the mini-offseason sweepstakes to lure Mychal Kendricks to their team in early June, as he agreed to a 1-year deal worth $3 million. Kendricks, a 2nd round pick in 2012 by the Eagles, had spent his entire career with Philadelphia before being released this offseason. Kendricks had been a starter for 6 seasons; last year for the Super Bowl Champions, he made 13 starts with 77 tackles, 2 sacks, and 6 passes defended.

Although the Browns had three starting linebackers already, Cleveland was in need of a fourth reliable player. According to Pro Football Focus, Kendricks “had the top pass rush productivity rating last year (20.4) among 4-3 OLBs, and the 9th best overall grade among all LBs (86.0).” He was also one of the better inside linebackers against the run last season.

I’ve always kind of hated the fact that teams feel some of their linebackers have to play every snap, no matter what. We saw how well the Browns’ deep defensive line rotation was last year and the positive results that came from that. Kendricks will reportedly begin training camp as the weakside linebacker, but he can be used inside as well and should see the field more than half of the snaps each week.

Final Roster Odds: 99%


Poll

If the Browns decide to "start" Mychal Kendricks, which of these three players should become the "rotational player?"

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Christian Kirksey
    (237 votes)
  • 17%
    Joe Schobert
    (178 votes)
  • 58%
    Jamie Collins
    (589 votes)
1004 votes total Vote Now