BEREA—The Browns have three returning linebackers from last year’s team looking from three different perspectives.
One is trying to live up to his original draft status, one his pass rushing numbers from the past and a third to try and fill the shoes of departed veterans.
Barkevious Mingo is trying to re-establish himself in the NFL with the Browns after being the sixth overall pick in 2013. He had five sacks in his rookie season but his production has waned since his rookie season. Mingo had 42 tackles as a rookie, just 39 tackles and two sacks “New staff, new goals, new building. As a team, we are collectively focused on getting better, putting in time and just putting it on the field.”
Mingo has battled being an under-sized linebacker since joining the Browns and he said he’s out to correct that. Mingo has been listed as weighing 240 pounds, but that is believed to be a serious stretch. Reports have said he’s up to 260 now and he definitely is bigger in the upper body area.
“Honestly, this whole offseason, my main focus was getting bigger – bigger, faster, stronger – and just coming into the building and coming into the workouts bigger, faster and stronger,” he said. “I achieved my goals and am excited to get to work with the guys that we brought back and the guys we’ve brought in.”
Paul Kruger had thoughts that he might be released when fellow veterans Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner were cut.
“I did, yeah,” Kruger said. “I was definitely, I guess, anticipating something. It made me a little nervous. I’m not going to lie. I am loyal to this team and it has been a lot of hard work that has been put in, and I want to see that through. I couldn’t be more happy and excited to be here in this seat.”
Kruger is excited to be re-united with defensive coordinator Ray Horton, whom Kruger had more production under in his previous time here.
“Very similar. Definitely great to see him back,” Kruger said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Ray. I love the way he coaches. It’s a lot of fun. It is nice that it is familiar and just knowing what to expect. He is a guy that just really respects you as a player, talks to you like a man and expects you to go get it done. A lot of guys respond well to it.”
Kruger expects to be used more the way he was when he had 11 sacks in 2014. In 2015, Kruger had just 2.5 sacks, but was used more in coverage than rushing the passer.
“Yeah, it seems like that is the way things are headed is more of a traditional, at least for me, role,” Kruger said. “I think it will just be more of a traditional outside linebacker role where you are balanced in the run-pass, whether it is dropping in coverage and rushing the passer, in more of a consistent rushing the passer and dropping in coverage seldom. More traditional in that sense.”
Kruger believes that having pass rushers from each side helps all the way around and that is why it would be a big plus if Mingo and or Nate Orchard can provide the pressure.
“There is an element of that, for sure,” Kruger said. “The more guys that are excelling at that the better. Everybody kind of feeds off each other in that way.”
And then there’s third-year linebacker Christian Kirksey, who is trying to fill the roles of departed veteran inside linebackers Karlos Dansby and Craig Robertson. Dansby led the team with 108 tackles and three interceptions, while Robertson had 50 tackles.
“With this whole coaching staff and change, it’s been nothing but positive energy throughout the whole building,” Kirksey said. “They bring a lot of knowledge to the game to us younger players. We can learn a lot from them. With the departure of Karlos Dansby, in my mind, I am really telling myself to step up. I know a lot of the coaches are telling me to step up. Nothing is written in stone so you always have to keep working, keep working like you are a rookie trying to earn a spot. That is my whole mentality, that’s my mindset, to keep paving the way and keep trying to bring this team wins.”
Kirksey had 53 tackles in 2015 with 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Kirksey says he’s ready to be an every down player and is expected to be paired with free agent signee Demario Davis at inside linebacker.
“Yes. I believe that every player that is in this building, they work to be a starter,” he said. “That is everybody’s mindset. Injuries happen, you never know when a player is going to go down. You never know when it is your time to step in so each and every day when you are in the classroom, when you are in the weight room, when you are on the field, you have to prepare yourself like you are the starter. That is what I am doing myself. There’s a long way before the season but that’s the way I am preparing myself, as the starter.”
The Browns took a hit on the defensive side of the ball with the departure of not only Dansby, Robertson, but Tashaun Gipson and Whitner, as well. Kirksey still thinks the Browns have the talent to be a good defense.
“I think we have a chance to be a good defense especially with Ray Horton coming in here,” he said. “His defense is a good defense, you can see the track record. He’s a guy that has a lot of knowledge of the game. When you look around the room, you see veteran guys like Tramon Williams, Joe Haden, Paul Kruger. Joe has been a Pro Bowler. Tramon has been a Pro Bowler and won a Super Bowl. Krug, he’s won the Super Bowl. We have plenty of leaders and plenty of older guys who can help us younger guys win games and show us the right way to do it as pros.
“It’s nothing but great and positive energy throughout the room,” he said. “We are kind of blocking out the outside. They are not in here working out with us or in the classroom with us. The guys that are in that room, we depend on one another and trust one another. If we work hard, we can do great things this year.”