Training camp in an event of the past, preseason games have come and gone. The 53-player roster has been set and preparation for the Pittsburgh Steelers is at the forefront. Defensively challenged against the run in recent seasons, the Browns look to pull a fast one on not only the Steelers, but the entire National Football League.
The linebacker corps of the Browns has been considered an area of strength for this improving defense. Through all the injury issues of a season ago, depth at the linebacker position opened the door of opportunity for an organization looking to make a name for itself. While the linebackers gain notoriety from the national press, there are issues within the ranks at the position, which make the team rather susceptible.
Ranked near or at the bottom of the league standings for some time, the Browns rush defense is in dire need of improvement. While the linebackers are not the first line of defense against the run, these linebackers play an important role in the overall stopping of the running game.
Heading into the 2007 season, some of the depth has been stripped from the club due to injury. Matt Stewart has been lost for the season due to a shoulder injury, Willie McGinest is out for a few more weeks after back surgery, while starting inside linebacker Andra Davis has been hobbled with an ankle sprain.
When discussing the Browns linebackers, the first player of mention has to be Kamerion Wimbley. In his rookie season, Wimbley collected 11 sacks and numerous other quarterback pressures.
Basically the lone pass rushing threat for the Browns last season, Wimbley has worked diligently to improve his overall game, and has displayed a much better understanding against the run and in pass coverage drills.
Wimbley’s main asset is his tremendous speed and quickness coming off the edge of the defense, which leaves many tackles at a disadvantage. Not resting on his laurels, Wimbley has added a nice shoulder dip and chopping arm slash to his repertoire for the 2007 season.
Looking to improve the pass rush, the Browns targeted Peek in free agency and the rest is history. Peek was slated to spell McGinest in the 2007 season, as well as being a situational pass rusher.
Now, Peek has the responsibility to fill McGinest’s shoes, as well as adding a presence in the pass rush scheme. Not known as an adequate player against the run and pass, Peek has performed well in training camp and preseason game conditions. The Browns defense will need a solid effort from Peek, if they are going to improve the production from the front seven of the defense.
Leon Williams filled the shoes of the starting inside linebackers Andra Davis and D’Qwell Jackson at times last season and was an instant hit, displaying an uncanny ability to make plays near of behind the line of scrimmage. This impact type of play was note-worthy as the starting linebackers on this roster failed to accomplish Williams' feat with consistency.
Getting a significant amount of practice reps and playing time due to an ankle injury to Davis in training camp, Williams did not look the same dominating type of presence. Suddenly Williams has looked ordinary, much like Davis in making numerous tackles, but are quite often four yards downfield.
Despite being listed behind Davis and Jackson on the depth chart, Williams is expected to see significant playing time in short yardage situations and could ultimately step in to fill the duties of one of the two starters.
Davis has been a steady presence for the Browns over the course of the past few seasons. Playing in different defensive schemes, with different teammates surrounding him, Davis has manned the inside of the linebacking corps with success on most occasions.
While accumulating tackles at a high rate, many of his tackles come well beyond the line of scrimmage, a facet of his game which is of some concern to the organization. His training camp of 2007 has been slowed due to an ankle injury, which has opened the door for Williams to display his skills. Davis will need to return to the lineup in a strong manner, as the Browns run defense will be tested early and often in the 2007 season.
While Davis relies on experience to get the job done, Jackson is a quick linebacker that flows extremely well to the play. He utilizes his quickness to beat blockers to the point of attack and this quickness helps him elude contact. The same quickness and lack of size often took Jackson out of plays early in his rookie campaign, but improved as the season progressed. An improving tackler, Jackson has been an asset against the pass and has improved his run recognition. With additional experience and further development of his physical stature, Jackson could be a fixture for the Browns.
The primary reserves are Chaun Thompson and David McMillan. Thompson enters his fifth season with the Browns and has been bounced between the inside and outside linebacker positions throughout his time with the club.
Physically gifted, Thompson can blow-up a play with ease, and look out of position on the next. Much of Thompson’s problem comes from the inability to see extensive playing time and his questionable decision making when on the field. Some will deem Thompson has been miscast in his role, but the team could be in the process of using him a situational pass rusher, which would maximize the use of his speed and quickness.
McMillan is a player which really has yet to make an impact, though he is a serviceable member of the group, providing depth and special teams play. In his brief appearances, McMillan has been neutralized at the point of attack by starting caliber linemen and should only be expected to be a situational player, and remaining a significant member of the special teams units.
As the defensive line of the Browns remains a questionable area, the linebackers on the roster will find their jobs tougher due to the inconsistency and mediocre play which has been evident throughout the summer. If the line plays well, these linebackers have the ability to fill the holes and play well. If not, then the freight-train will be off and rolling against the Cleveland defense and the best linebackers to ever play the game would have their fair share of trouble.