More than a month after training camp started and three games into the preseason, coach Romeo Crennel has yet to name a starter for the inside linebacker spot next to Andra Davis.
Rookie D'Qwell Jackson started the first two games. Chaun Thompson started against the Bills in the third game. This is Thompson's fourth season with the Browns, but the game against the Bills was his first as in inside linebacker. He played outside in a 4-3 defense his first two years and outside in a 3-4 last season.
Crennel describes Jackson as an "instinctive player." He also likes Thompson's athleticism. Thompson moves laterally as quickly as any linebacker on the roster. He battled a wrist injury in 2004 and 2005. The wrist is fine now, but a calf injury caused him to miss the first two games in August.
"We're both practicing and both running the same scheme," Thompson said. "He has a little more instinct, but he wants it and I want it and we're both working hard. That's going to make the team better."
The final statistics from the Browns' 20-17 victory over the Bills won't be enough for Crennel to make a determination. Each player made three tackles. Thompson also had a special teams tackle.
Thompson's best season was 2005 when he made 102 tackles and five sacks. Under normal circumstances that would be enough production to give him another year at outside linebacker, but the circumstances went against Thompson when the Browns used their first draft choice on Kamerion Wimbley.
The decision to tentatively switch Thompson, 6-2, 249 pounds, inside was made before Wimbley, Jackson and Leon Williams were drafted. Williams also plays inside. Selecting Wimbley in the first round cemented the decision.
"Hopefully, they will be real good," Crennel said. "You don't know until you start playing games. You can see them react under pressure. They can make plays in practice, but what counts is if you can make plays in the game. It gets turned up a notch when the regular season starts."
Whichever player ends up with the starting job will benefit from having Ted Washington at nose tackle. Crennel declined to name the MVP of training camp, but a survey of the media covering the Browns on a day-to-day basis was split on whether the top defensive player was Washington or cornerback Leigh Bodden. Tight end Kellen Winslow was hands down the top offensive player.
Jackson weighs 228 pounds, about 20 pounds less than Thompson. He has the advantage of having played inside throughout high school and college. This is the first time Thompson has contended with 330-pound guards in such close quarters.
"I'd like to have the same job two years in a row, but if the coach moves you around it means he thinks a lot about you," Thompson said. "I have to have dog fight in me. I have to go out and practice well and play well and do the extra things to get noticed."