Out with old, in with the new.
The Browns have sold out to the notion of staying young and grooming some of their unproven linebacking talent in 2003 ."Youth" and "inexperience" are the most common words used to describe the current Browns roster of linebackers, and "inconsistent" may be added to that list if the Browns youth movement goes the way that others have in the past.
The nucleus of the new look goes back to the 2002 draft, where the team selected linebackers, Ben Taylor, Kevin Bentley, and Andra Davis in the middle rounds. The Browns then padded that list with the selection of linebacker Chaun Thompson in the second round of the 2003 draft. The volume of youth and potential has made linebacker one area of stiff competition heading into training camp.
Gone from the Browns roster is the majority of experience (and salary) at the linebacker spots. With the release of veteran linebackers, Dwayne Rudd and Earl Holmes, the retirement of Jamir Miller, and the lack of interest in re-signing 2002 stopgap Darren Hambrick, the Browns are risking much of the 2003 season on a group of mostly untested players.
BerniesInsiders.com has gotten honest perspectives on the Browns defensive gambit from inside and outside the team, on the condition that our sources names not be used.
"The Browns are playing with fire and quite possibly will be burnt this upcoming season," a league source said. "Being just seconds away from advancing in the playoffs last year to basically gutting the defense is a risky proposition. In Rudd and Holmes, you know what you have and what you can get out of those players. Now, with their obvious plan of youth and athleticism at the linebacker positions, that inexperience will be challenged immensely."
"It is one thing to start on rookie or inexperienced linebacker, but in Cleveland there will be three new starters at the positions, and all three could be basically rookies. While the hopes are high in Cleveland, they are going to take their lumps."
Heading into training camp in late July, the Browns presently have, Barry Gardner, Brant Boyer, Kevin Bentley, Ben Taylor, Andra Davis, Michael Josiah, Chaun Thompson, Mason Unck, Jeremy Loyd, Howard Clark, and Sherrod Coates on the roster. It is anticipated that the team will field seven linebackers on the active roster heading into the season.
From what we've been told, Bentley and Taylor are the starting outside linebackers and Gardner has edged ahead Davis in the early practice sessions. The experienced Boyer is being counted on to hold down one of the roster spots, with Josiah and Thompson filling the remaining two openings. If there is one of the linebackers that could fall from the roster, it is Josiah, though the team likes his speed and quickness and envisions him as a pass rushing linebacker.
"Right now every linebacker position is an open competition. The best players will be on the field, we like what we have seen thus far, but it is early and hopefully in training camp some of these guys will separate themselves from the pack," a team source said. "We have a pretty good idea of where we are with these guys, now getting the pads on, the repetition and pressure of practice should make this training camp intense for some of these guys."
"All the guys on the roster will have an opportunity and not all of them will make the team, we anticipate a tremendously competitive situation. We believe that we don't really need to add another player to the roster, but if the right player were available that fits into our scheme and cap structure, then we would certainly take a look."