King: Wimbley Rises Amidst the Chaos

Lost in the Browns moribund 2009 season has been the return to prominence of Kamerion Wimbley. Steve King looks at one of "keepers" on the current Browns roster...

Numbers don't lie, and these numbers are so bad, it's frightening.

If you were trying to paint a worse-case scenario – the nightmare of all nightmares -- for the Browns statistically, this would be it. Nearly everywhere you look, the team is headed toward historically negative levels.

What's even worse – if that's possible – is that there are still seven games left, beginning with Sunday's matchup against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, and it's mind-boggling to think about how bad it could get – how bad it will get – before it's all over.

So not much of anything good will come out of this season, then, but one of the real, legitimate positives has been the play of Kamerion Wimbley. First-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan predicted early on that Wimbley would get back on track, and he has, leading the team – by a lot – in sacks with five, or over 25 percent of the Browns' total of 19. In fact, he has exactly twice as many sacks as the runnerup, fellow linebacker David Bowens, who has 2.5.

Wimbley, the No. 13 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft out of Florida State, entered the league in grand style. He had 11 sacks, setting the team's rookie record, and seemed headed toward much bigger and better things. How could that not be the case? After all, this was just his first year, and he was only scratching the surface.

But instead of getting better – at least statistically, and probably otherwise, too – he got worse, progressively so. He came back in 2007 and didn't even reach half his sack total from his rookie year, getting five.

OK, the league, as a whole, had learned how to block Wimbley, so now he needed to develop some counter moves to that. And all through training camp last year, he vowed he would.

But if he did have an answer, then it wasn't a good one, or the right one. His sack total decreased again, this time to four.

Just four, or but one every four games.

That's hardly a game-changing statistic.

At that point, Wimbley seemed headed down the same path as former Browns cornerback Antonio Langham and former Indians sluggers Joe Charboneau and Charlie Spikes, all of whose stars soared high and fast, and then faded just as quickly into the night, never to be heard from again.

Linebacker, especially outside linebacker, is the key position in the 3-4 defensive scheme. Without good linebackers, the 3-4 can't be effective, for it is built in such a way that the defensive linemen are supposed to engage the offensive linemen, allowing the linebackers to run free from sideline to sideline making plays.

So as Wimbley's production decreased, so did the overall effectiveness of the defense. Part of it was the fact Wimbley wasn't surrounded by a lot of great players, allowing opponents to focus on him and neutralize him.

And part of it was that Wimbley simply wasn't stepping up to meet the challenge of getting better as he got older and more experienced. Great players are great players regardless of who is around them. They rise above it all and find ways to make it happen.

Now, that is finally happening with Wimbley. The defense around him is not good – in fact, you could make a case that this is the worst defense he's played in as a pro – but he isn't letting that drag him down.

He's active and aggressive on every play. He seems a little tougher, a little meaner and a lot more determined.

He's making a lot of plays, and even when he doesn't make them, he's around the ball a lot, right there in position to make them.

And the sacks – the plays he is paid the most to make – are starting to come again. With five in nine games, will he get eight or maybe even nine in 16 games at season's end? He will if he stays on this course.

And that's a start, not just for Wimbley or even this defense, but for the team overall.

The Browns have a lot of holes on both sides of the ball – so many of them, in fact, that you can't count them all. There's likely to be a lot of upheaval again this season as the Browns try to fix the problem – at least as much as can be fixed in one offseason.

But in having a young, productive player at the important position of outside linebacker – a player who maybe, just maybe, will begin to get a little better with each passing year, just as everybody thought he was going to do in 2007 and '08 – is a start. It's one less hole to fill if everything goes according to plan.

It's not going to sway the balance of power in the AFC North, but in a season like this one, in which everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, it's like gold. So you take it and run with it as fast as you can for as far as you can go.

 


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