If there is any theme to this year’s Browns Organized Team Activities, it’s definitely all about last year’s struggle turning into this year’s feel-good story. Brian Robiske feels more comfortable as a receiver. Brandon McDonald is welcoming all opportunities and challenges. No rookies taking 10-hour bus rides and having the media stoke the flames. All great stories, seemingly a vast turn of events from a year prior.
And since it would be par for the course in Berea, there have recently been glowing remarks about one David Veikune – one of last year’s second-round draft selections that was found in street clothes more often than a Browns jersey.
“I believe that David’s really benefited well from some opportunities that have been created at the inside linebacker spot without having D’Qwell [Jackson] here,” said Mangini. “ He’s gotten quite a few reps and I think he’s done a nice job.”
Most individuals selected in the second round of the NFL draft are looked to to be instant impact players - even more so for a rebuilding franchise. Selected with the 20th pick in the round out of Hawaii, thoughts were that Veikune could provide some much-needed rushing on the outside of the Browns 3-4 defense. Spending most of his time on the defensive line for the Rainbow Warriors, Veikune earned conference honors for his production. But when Veikune would stumble out of the gates during his transition to the next level, he would fail to record a single statistic for the 2009 season.
The only catch for Veikune’s transition is that he is presently being used on the inside of the 3-4 as opposed to the outside where most defensive ends would transition. Mangini claims that this move was based on “fit” as some players are simply able to utilize their skill set differently than others. And despite the perceived norm, the Browns head coach does not see Veikune’s transition to the inside as unusual.
“I don’t think it’s unusual,” said Mangini. ”For one, for the team to go through the process of figuring out where the right spot is, and then you know sometimes its better inside, sometimes its better outside. Tedy Bruschi was a defensive end who worked primarily in sub his first year and then we moved him in, when we got to New England, moved him into an inside backer spot.”
Bruschi has many similarities to Veikune. Both players were Pac 10 pass-rushers, both were selected outside of the first round in their respective drafts, and both were transitioned to linebacker. But this would be where the similarities currently end. Bruschi played every game as a rookie in 1996, albeit mostly on special teams. He would play in every game during his second season as well. Other players mentioned by Mangini include Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel, and Rosevelt Colvin – all of whom were pass-rushing linebackers.
Fortunately for Veikune, the absence of the veteran linebackers ahead of him have provided him extra opportunities to become more comfortable with Rob Ryan’s defense. But as well as he has performed in the voluntary OTAs, Mangini hopes that his progress will carry through to the contact-based drills.
“I think some of the value with linebackers really has to be determined once the pads come on,” Mangini said. “You can see where they fit, you can see their drops, you can see their communication, but part of playing that inside linebacker spot is your ability to go up and thump and I think that is something that David showed in college. He showed different levels last season, but this is good work for him in terms of processing everything.”
There is no telling how much action Veikune will see come the start of the 2010 season. The Browns have added even more linebackers to the mix since drafting the 24-year-old linebacker just a year ago via free agency with Scott Fujita and a trade that landed them Chris Gocong. Interestingly enough, the current depth chart has Veikune listed as the back-up outside linebacker on the left side, sharing time with Matt Roth (also added since Veikune was drafted) as well as David Bowens and Eric Barton.
As with most of his roster, Mangini continues to be a big fan of versatility and the ability to play more than one position. While there is no guarantee, learning both the inside and outside positions may just help the second-year project out of Hawaii see the field come 2010.
“The nice thing is the 3-4 is pretty flexible,” said Mangini. ”When you have guys that can play both spots, you can become more flexible with where you can put them and how you move those pieces around. That’s something I’m always looking for.”
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)