Linebackers Key to Defense

This is the seventh position-by-position preview of the Browns as they begin training camp.

Mike Pettine is known for having very good defenses. In his first year with the Bills last year, his defense finished in the top 10 overall. A big reason was the production of the linebackers. Overall, the Bills finished second in the NFL with 57 sacks and it is expected that the likes of Barkevious Mingo, Jabaal Sheard and Paul Kruger will benefit the most in Pettine’s defensive system.

Linebackers (Darius Eubanks, Barkevious Mingo, Eric Martin, Craig Robertson, Karlos Dansby, Chris Kirksey, Tank Carder, Justin Staples, Zac Diles, Jabaal Sheard, Paul Kruger, Edgar Jones, Jamaal Westerman)

#50 Darius Eubanks (6-2, 222, 23, 2nd season, Georgia Southern)—Played in 9 games in 2013 with 15 tackles. Was also a key player on special teams.

#51 Barkevious Mingo (6-4, 240, 23, 2nd season, LSU)—Mingo had 42 tackles, eight passes broken up and five sacks. He started with sacks in his first three games, but it seemed teams figured out Mingo’s moves.

#52 Eric Martin (6-2, 250, 23, 2nd season, Nebraska)— Martin had seven tackles and was a core special teams performer.

#53 Craig Robertson (6-1, 234, 26, 3rd season, North Texas)—Robertson finished with 89 tackles, good for fourth-best on the team, including three sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery. Robertson was exposed in pass coverage situations against backs out of the backfield. Rookie Chris Kirksey is expected to battle him for playing time.

#56 Karlos Dansby (6-3, 251, 32, 11th season, Auburn)— One of the key unrestricted free agent signings by the Browns. Despite being 32 years old, Dansby is coming off a career year with the Cardinals. As an inside linebacker, he had 6.5 sacks, which is more than any Browns player had last season.

#58 Chris Kirksey (6-2, 235, 21, Rookie, Iowa)—Drafted with their first pick in the third round aand is expected to compete with Robertson for the starting inside linebacker position beside Dansby.

#59 Tank Carder (6-2, 235, 25, 3rd season, Texas Christian)—Was placed on the non-football injury/active list to start training camp after missing minicamp with an injury. Carder had 11 tackles from scrimmage and was second on the team in special teams with eight.

#94 Justin Staples (6-4, 245, 24 1st season, Illinois)—Staples was on the practice squad in 2013.

#96 Zac Diles (6-0, 245, 29, 8th season, Kansas St.)—Signed as a free agent prior to the veteran minicamp. Previously, played with the Titans.

#97 Jabaal Sheard (6-3, 264, 25, 4th season, Pittsburgh)—Sheard has led the Browns in each of his three NFL seasons with the team for a total of 21. Last season, he had 5.5 in his first season as a linebacker. Sheard had 47 tackles, four passes broken up and a fumble recovery. Has the versatility to play defensive end, as well.

#99 Paul Kruger (6-4, 270, 28, 6th season, Utah)—Kruger had 69 tackles, but just 4.5 sacks in his first season with the Browns. The Browns are hoping Kruger blossoms in Pettine’s defensive system.

Edgar Jones (6-3, 256, 29, 8th season, Southeast Missouri St.) – Signed two days before training camp, Jones most recently played with the Cowboys. He has played in 64 career games as a reserve for the Ravens, Chiefs and Cowboys. Played for Pettine in Baltimore.

Jamaal Westerman (6-3, 265, 29, 6th season)—Westerman was with Pettine with the Jets and last season with the Bills. He tweeted that he had signed with the Browns on Thursday, but wasn’t officially announced by the team.

Summary: The Browns are hoping the linebackers are able to provide a strong pass rush. Pettine’s defense with the Bills last season produced a franchise record 57 sacks. Mingo, Sheard and Kruger are players that should be more productive in this system. The addition of Dansby and Kirksey should help in coverage and in terms of depth on the inside.

(Next: The secondary)

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