Adkins: Looks at the Linebackers

In the 2006 draft, General Manager Phil Savage infused the linebacking corps with young talent. As the youngsters enter their second year, they hope to help that unit make a statement. Lane talks to the players and takes a look at what the future holds for this group...

During 2006, the Browns were again one of the worst teams in the entire league against the run. So, during the team's off-season, it was in the new and out with the old.

The addition of Robaire and Shaun Smith through free agency is being counted on to provide quality play along the Browns' defensive front. Early indications in training camp are the Smith's are physical and give the Cleveland defensive line some quickness rarely seen last year. If a healthy Orpheus Roye and ageless Ted Washington can hold off Father Time for one more year, the defensive line could be as solid as this team has fielded in many a season.

Stopping the run is essential and critical for success in the AFC North. The Browns have been unable to get the defense off the field in recent years, which has led to the unit tiring late in games. An ineffective offense has been a key factor, as the team has had to trot back onto the field quickly after far too many three-and-outs.

While the new additions provide a modicum of hope that the defensive line can contain opposing runners, the team's linebackers will be heavily counted on to provide stability and a physical presence. The team's starters, heading into training camp are Andra Davis, D'Qwell Jackson, Kamerion Wimbley, and aging veteran Willie McGinest.

Andra Davis has been developing a reputation for making a significant number of tackles per season, but few impact tackles at or near the line of scrimmage. The Browns' are counting on an improved stable of linemen to provide an opportunity for Davis to wipe out this perception.

"This defense will give us the opportunity to make plays. We have to make them, I have to make them, if I play to my potential, we will be an exciting defense," Davis told the Orange and Brown Report.

Second-year linebackers D'Qwell Jackson and Kamerion Wimbley are coming off successful rookie campaigns. Wimbley led the team with 11 sacks and was a presence play-in and play-out. As the season progressed, Wimbley not only rushed the quarterback well, but began to play the run much more consistently.

Jackson, a second round draft selection, earned a starting spot alongside Davis with an impressive 2006 training camp. Jackson gets after the ball carrier and displays the instincts necessary to become a good linebacker at the professional level. Considered somewhat undersized last season, Jackson came into the Browns 2007 Training Camp a little bigger and stronger, which should help him get through the rigors of the NFL season.

"I feel good and I am ready to go. My foot is a non-issue and I believe I can play much better than I did last season," Jackson told the Orange and Brown Report. "The experience of last season will make me a better player and that should make our defense better."

During the off-season, the Browns added outside linebacker Antwan Peek to the mix. Signed to get after the quarterback, Peek is counted on to compete with McGinest, as well as to provide a legitimate pass rush opposite Wimbley in clear passing situations.

"Many people think I can only rush the quarterback. While I like to think I am good in that capacity, I know given the opportunity I can be an effective linebacker on every down," Peek told the OBR during mini-camp. "I'm excited to be a Cleveland Brown, this defense has a lot going for it and Todd Grantham (defensive coordinator) is an excellent coach."

2006 draft pick Leon Williams, meanwhile, is ready to go after a starting spot as an inside linebacker. Williams is already a favorite of fans and could be in position to move up the depth chart.

Playing sparingly throughout last season, Williams gained a great opportunity when Jackson was lost due to a foot injury. While spelling Jackson, Williams displayed a physical presence, consistency, and energy which was somewhat lacking within the linebacker corps (outside of fellow 2006 pick Kamerion Wimbley). When inserted into the lineup, Williams elevated the quality of linebacking play and improved the unit's ability to stuff rushers in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage.

While the game starts upfront in the trenches, it could be these Cleveland linebackers which elevate this Browns' defense to contender status.

In a few short weeks we'll get some answers, but for now, I don't see this Cleveland defense being nearly as weak against the run.

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