(The OBR will do a position-by-position review of each of the Browns positions as the team heads toward the 2015 season. The seventh part we’ll look at the linebackers.)
The Browns linebacker corps made some strides in 2014, but still needs better play al around. Karlos Dansby proved to be a big addition in free agency as he was missed in the games he was injured. Craig Robertson rebounded well after a less than average 2013 season. Chris Kirksey proved to be a solid draft choice and should only get better and play even a bigger role in his second year.
Paul Kruger rushed the passer like he was expected to when signed to a big free agent contract in 2013.. Meanwhile, Barkevious Mingo and Jabaal Sheard had less than spectacular seasons and were disappointing, in terms of rushing the passer.
The coaching staff defended Mingo citing his injury and not being asked to rush the quarterback, but you don’t draft a pass rusher sixth overall, to not rush the quarterback.
Here’s a capsule summary of each linebacker that was with the team at the end of the season in 2014.
Karlos Dansby—Dansby finished second on the team with 93 tackles, three sacks, two passes broken up and an interception, despite missing four games due to a knee injury suffered against the Texans.
Paul Kruger—Kruger led the team with 11sacks, the most since a Browns player since Kamerion Wimbley had 11 in 2006. Kurger is only the eighth played in Browns history to reach double-digit sacks in a season. Nine of his sacks came in the final 10 games. He also had 53 tackles, four passes broken up, four fumbles force and one recovered.
Barkevious Mingo—Mingo played in 15 games with 11 starts and finished with 39 tackles, two sacks, four passes broken up and a fumble recovery. Mingo injured his shoulder in the preseason and played the whole season with a harness that didn’t allow him full movement in his arm.
Craig Robertson—Robertson had a bounce back season with 92 tackles in 16 games with 11 starts. He finished third on the team in tackles and had four passes broken up, two interceptions and a fumble recovery for a touchdown against the Colts on Dec. 7.
Chris Kirksey—Kirksey played in all 16 games, starting eight at the weak inside position. The rookie from Iowa finished fourth on the team with 75 tackles, two sacks, three passes broken up and a forced fumble. Kirksey was voted the top rookie during training camp by the local media.
Tank Carder—Carder finished third on the team in special team tackles. His biggest play of the season was when he blocked a punt that went out of the end zone for a safety against the Titans in the Browns big comeback win on Oct. 5.
Jabaal Sheard—Sheard finished with 44 tackles, the lowest of his four-year career with the Browns. He also had just two sacks, lowest in his career after leading the Browns in sacks in his first three seasons when he had 21 sacks in his first three seasons. He also had three passes broken up. Sheard ranks ninth on the all-time sack list for the Browns with 23, but he is an unrestricted free agent and the Browns have to decide if they plan to retain him.
Scott Solomon—Solomon played in the last two games after being promoted from the practice squad and made his presence felt with seven tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Earlier in the season, he played six games for Tampa Bay and had eight tackles and a sack with a forced fumble.
Darius Eubanks—Eubanks spent the season on injured reserve after injuring his shoulder in the preseason. His primary role in the past was on special teams.
Keith Pough—Pough spent most of the season on the practice squad, but was inactive for one game on the roster.
Summary: The Browns have to decide if Sheard is worth retaining after a sub-par season in 2014. The Browns need Mingo and Sheard to rush the passer like Kruger did in 2014 or decide to look elsewhere, whether through free agency or the draft.
Here is a list of some of the potential unrestricted free agent linebackers:
Outside: Justin Houston (Chiefs), Jason Worilds (Steelers), Brian Orakpo (Redskins), John Abraham (Cardinals), Sam Acho (Cardinals), Sean Weatherspoon (Falcons), Kroy Biermann (Falcons), Pernell McPhee (Ravens), Lance Briggs (Bears), Brooks Reed (Texans), David Harris (Jets), James Harrison (Steelers), Casey Matthews (Eagles), Dwight Freeney (Chargers), Casey Matthews (Eagles) and Malcolm Smith (Seahawks)
(Next Up: We’ll take a look at the defensive line)