Q: I recently read an article in which you claim linebacker Willie McGinest plays an important role within the team. His production has been below average, and he's slow... McGinest has been one of the worst acquisitions of the Savage era, IMHO. I don't agree at all.
LA: I would NEVER under-value the importance of veteran leadership, a quality individual and very knowledgeable participant in the system. Granted, Willie McGinest is not the same player he was five-years ago, but he remains a solid presence on the playing field and within this locker room. There may not be a player, or a man as respected on this roster as McGinest. He has been a great influence for the youth coming in, as well as a solid, stand up leader.
McGinest is healthy heading into 2008 and should compliment the Browns defense with his demeanor, competitiveness and drive to bring a winner to this town. McGinest has experience few others on the team have. He has "been there, done that" with respect to media attention and possible playoffs.
If McGinest were to - only - fill a depth role, this value will carry onto those on the field and to those which will put on the Cleveland jersey for some time to come. At this point in his career, McGinest may only be a situational/rotational player, but he is as healthy as he has been in some time and could surprise those that believe he has nothing left to offer.
Q: Defensive lineman Shaun Smith was made out to be a major signing in free agency last season. To most fans, Smith did nothing to lead us to believe he will or can be key part of the defense. What does the organization see that we don't?
LA: Shaun Smith is an aggressive, active and charismatic individual. Early in training camp last year, Smith was doing very well at the nose tackle position and was exactly what the organization had believed he would be in the defensive system.
Injuries caused Smith to shift to DE, which is not his primary position. He did it and learned on the fly, as he has never been a legitimate DE. As the season progressed, Smith wore down a bit physically and battled an injury issue.
Heading into 2008, Smith is in great shape, has been working hard and now is back in the role of NT primarily. He knows and understands the system and responsibilities. Smith's energy and physical nature should be a nice fit inside of Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers.
Everybody associated with this organization I have spoken with are of the belief Smith will have a very good 2008 season.
Q: You wrote that outside linebacker Antwan Peek played on a bad knee and Shaun Smith battled some injury issues for almost the entire season last year. If so, why did the team put them through playing with injuries? What is the plan if he or any of the linebackers or linemen were to suffer such an injury this year?
LA: Questionable productivity along the defensive line last year magnified every deficiency in the linebacking corps and defensive backfield.
What makes the 2008 season intriguing as we head into the start of OTAs and mini-camps is the manner which the organization attacked and filled the roles on this roster. With a glaring weakness at the point of attack, the organization sought and secured arguably two of the best players available in Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers. Suddenly, the line has gone from average talent with no depth to top-quality talent and useful depth. At this time, the roster is not set on the back end line depth, but the talent level has been dramatically improved.
Linebacker is where the team may see some drastic improvement in the 2008 season. With the defensive line intact with quality talent, the linebackers should have room to make plays. What makes this an interesting roster is the type of talent and depth in place. While this organization may not have a truly dynamic pass rusher at OLB (jury is out on Kamerion Wimbley), there has been a serious attempt to upgrade the type if 'fit the scheme' talent. OLB Shantee Orr played well in the 3-4 in Houston, where he and Peek teamed up to be very productive. These two players, along with McGinest certainly provide experience and depth at the position.
Put ILB Leon Williams into the equation and the situation at OLB may not be an issue whatsoever. Any thought of Williams sliding to the outside will be dependant on how quickly rookie Beau Bell adapts to the pro game. Inside the organization, the belief is Bell is going to play, much sooner than later. If Bell steps up quickly, Williams then could be an option at OLB, where his aggressiveness and overall speed may be better utilized.