Questions Remain at Linebacker

Heading into the 2003 season, the Browns linebacking corps remains the biggest question mark. Will Dave Campo's scheme and the pure athleticism of the group be enough to compensate for their inexperience?

Linebacking Remains a Question Mark: The biggest question about the Cleveland Browns defense remains the linebacking position.

Butch Davis cleaned out his veteran linebackers from a year ago, getting rid of Jamir Miller, Earl Holmes, Dwayne Rudd and Darren Hambrick.

He decided instead to go with younger players.

The moves caused much consternation among fans and teammates, but in some ways they made sense. The Browns defense was not strong a year ago, and second-half collapses against Indianapolis and Pittsburgh led to bitter defeats. Why not try something new?

The question, though, is that all the young linebackers the team has are generally unproven. Eliminate Brant Boyer, a valuable special teamer and backup, and Barry Gardner, a free-agent signee, is the lone veteran with experience. But his four years in Philadelphia were a disappointment after the Eagles took him with a second-round draft pick.

In the Browns second minicamp, Gardner was the starter in the middle -- between second-year players Kevin Bentley and Ben Taylor.

The team clearly would like second-year player Andra Davis to take over the middle. It seems that Davis goes out of his way to praise Davis and/or bolster his confidence.

"There hasn't been a drill where he doesn't do something that catches your eye," Davis said of Davis.

It would seem that if that were true, though, Andra Davis would be ahead of Gardner.

On the outside, Taylor and Bentley seem to have the inside track over rookie Chaun Thompson, whom the team will bring along. But Butch Davis said his goal is to get the best three linebackers on the field, regardless of position. So it's conceivable Gardner could move outside if Andra Davis comes along.

The Browns are projecting based on their belief in their young players. They really aren't sure what they have in the linebackers except they know they like them.

The team's other source of confidence seems to be in the system run by Dave Campo.

"The system is linebacker friendly," safety Robert Griffith said.

Which means it doesn't ask a lot of players except to run to the ball. Davis believes that will help compensate for the group's inexperience. "Those guys are athletic enough that you can expect them to make plays", Davis recently said.

That system made players like Dixon Edwards and Dexter Coakley a lot of money. Both played well in Dallas, and parlayed it into free-agent deals -- Edwards with the Vikings, Coakley in Dallas.

If fans aren't sure about the players, they can be sure about the results in Dallas, where the Cowboys won Super Bowls with a number of different linebackers starting.

Until the games start and people see what the Browns truly have, that will be the main source of confidence for the fans.

Standing by Gerard: Davis is hard on some players, but he continues to stand by Gerard Warren. "Gerard Warren has got my unanimous support," Davis said. Davis continues to attribute Warren's second-year funk to immaturity. "He wants to be a great player; he wants to be a leader," Davis said. "I don't think it's something that he has done any different from a lot of guys in professional sport. You come in and have a pretty solid year and get a lot of money and you kind of get a little bit complacent."


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