Former San Diego Chargers linebacker Matt Wilhelm has had an up and down career out west, and even earned an extension with the Chargers following the 2006 season. Remembering his successful career at Ohio State, Browns fans have often looked on Wilhelm as a strong potential fit with the Browns.
Wilhelm had a career year in 2007 as he notched 97 tackles and three interceptions for the Chargers AFC West title squad. Known as a 3-4 inside linebacker, Wilhelm could ease the Jaguars transition to their new defensive look. To find out more about Wilhelm, we asked SDBoltReport.com publisher Michael Lombardo to give us a scouting report, and he thankfully obliged--
Matt Wilhelm has all the skills to be an above-average starting inside linebacker, especially in today's pass-happy NFL. He has smooth hips and rare anticipation, allowing him to bait opposing quarterbacks into making bad throws. He also has the strength and athleticism to be effective against the run, although he played horrendously against the run last season, which led to his demotion.
The biggest problem with Wilhelm seems to be his drive. He came into the league very cocky as a rookie (he said he was drafted as a replacement for Junior Seau, which got a good laugh), but slowly climbed the ladder by proving himself on special teams and in the nickel defense.
Wilhelm earned a contract extension late in the '06 season and played very well in '07, answering the critics who said there would be a drop-off at ILB (Wilhelm and Stephen Cooper were stepping in as first-time starters replacing Donnie Edwards and Randall Godfrey). However, he regressed significantly last season and was undisciplined against the run. That led the Chargers to promote Tim Dobbins into the starting lineup, even though Dobbins is a huge liability against the pass.
Wilhelm still played about 50 percent of the snaps and played in the base defense against pass-first offenses (like the Colts and Broncos). However, it was clear he had fallen out of favor. When the Chargers signed ILB Kevin Burnett this offseason, the writing was on the wall.
I think Wilhelm will look for work with a coach he's familiar with (maybe Wade Phillips in Dallas or Greg Manusky in San Francisco), since it's late in the offseason to start learning a new scheme. He can still be a starter if a coach can keep him focused, but he has better value as a nickel back and special-teams contributor.
Based on Lombardo's report, it's hard to imagine Wilhelm as a "Mangini player", particularly given the importance (and the Browns poor history) of defending the run in the AFC North.
At present, we have not heard any rumblings that the Browns are seriously considering signing Wilhelm.