BEREA—When Eric Mangini was asked about trading Kamerion Wimbley before the draft he said he felt that the Browns had depth at linebacker, after the additions of Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong. Presently, the Browns have 13 linebackers on the roster as the team heads to training camp.
In the previous article, we previewed the candidates to play outside linebacker for the Browns this season. Several of the linebackers that play outside could also end up on the inside. David Bowens played very well last season when he was moved inside, as did Jason Trusnik. In fact, in the team's final depth chart of 2009, Bowens and Trusnik were listed as the starting inside linebackers.
Fujita was one of the big name unrestricted free agent signings the Browns had this off season. Fujita came over after helping the Saints win the Super Bowl and is counted on to be an integral part of the defensive scheme.
Last year's incumbents, D'Qwell Jackson and Eric Barton are coming off season-ending injuries. Jackson had shoulder surgery and Barton neck surgery. Jackson has been a mainstay for the Browns after being a second-round pick in 2006. He led the NFL in tackles in 2008 with 188. Barton was one of the key players that Eric Mangini brought over from the Jets in 2009.
David Veikune, who was drafted in the second-round last season, has been working exclusively on the inside and Mangini has said he has made great progress after playing very little in 2009. Kaluka Maiava, who was a fourth-round choice last season actually started three games inside and had 40 tackles in his rookie season.
Here are the inside linebacker candidates as the Browns head to training camp.
Scott Fujita (6-5, 250)—Fujita came over as an unrestricted free agent after helping the Saints win the Super Bowl. He had 75 tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles in the regular season in 10 games. He had 16 tackles in the post season. Fujita is entering his ninth season.
Eric Barton (6-3, 245) – Barton is trying to return after neck surgery which forced him to miss the final eight games of the 2009 season. This is Barton's 12th NFL season. In the first half of the season, Barton had 58 tackles. Barton is used almost exclusively as an inside linebacker.
D'Qwell Jackson (6-0, 240) – Jackson returns for his fifth season after missing the final 10 games of the 2009 season with a shoulder injury. In his six games, Jackson had 57 tackles, two passes defensed and a forced fumble. Jackson, like Barton, is seen almost exclusively as an inside linebacker.
Titus Brown (6-4, 305) – Brown spent the 2008 and 2009 seasons with the Browns. He appeared in four games in 2008 and was mostly on special teams. In 2009, he was on the Browns' practice squad for the first 15 games before being elevated to the active roster for the final game.
Blake Costanzo (6-1, 235) – Really has made a career as a core special teams player. Costanzo has not made a tackle other than on special teams in his first three seasons.
Kaluka Maiava (6-0, 229) – Returns for his second season after recording 40 tackles in 16 games, including three starts. Maiava had 2.5 sacks, including two passes defensed and a forced fumble.
David Veikune (6-2, 257) – Veikune was a second-round draft choice in 2009, but only appeared in 10 games. He did not register a tackle and ended up the season on injured reserve. Mangini said the plan was to use Veikune on the inside in 2010. He was touted as a pass rusher coming out of Hawaii.
With Fujita, Bowens, Trusnik in the mix, besides Veikune and Maiava, it is not a lock that either Jackson or Barton will end up as starters on the inside.
(Next, we'll look at the cornerback position.)