Mike Pettine’s arrival likely means an upgrade at inside linebacker

DQWell Jackson

DQWell JacksonOne thing that has been a hallmark for defenses under Mike Pettine has been inside linebacker. When he was with Rex Ryan in Baltimore, that meant Ray Lewis. When he and Ryan went to the Jets, Pettine is reportedly the man who wanted Bart Scott—badly. Also, it wasn’t until the Bills’ third pick last year, but it was the second round when they found it a priority to go get Oregon’s Kiko Alonso.1 With Mike Pettine coming to Cleveland, it’s safe to assume that the Browns will address the center of their defense.

D’Qwell Jackson, the team’s current middle linebacker and captain, is owed a lot of money this year. If they cut him, it will add about $4.2 million in dead money to the books, but if they keep him, it will cost them over $8 million. Maybe there’s a middle ground and a forthcoming re-negotiation that works for both parties. Craig Robertson had a year. That’s about the best I can say for him. It wasn’t the worst year ever, but it wasn’t the kind of year that will keep anyone thinking he’s much more than a backup.

Between the draft and free agency, I expect that to be a place the Browns make some moves.

In the 3-4 defense, the inside linebackers need to work together, make reads and play instinctive football. With three defensive linemen in front of them, they have a good opportunity to read the gaps. The nose tackle works on the center and hopefully demands a double team. So the linebackers need to watch and see which guard goes to double team. They’re also looking at fullbacks if they’re in the formation. Ultimately they need to figure out what they’re doing by reading the guards, but if they’re not on the same page, it creates holes in the center of the defense. Other than quarterback, the Browns’ lack of a true playmaker at linebacker has been one of the most notable absences since 1999.

Assuming the Browns address the spot, they can do so either through free agency or the draft. I haven’t done any kind of exhaustive research, but here are some names.

Walter Football lists the top ten free agents at inside linebacker for 2014.

Name – Team – Age

  1. Daryl Smith – Ravens – 32 years
  2. Karlos Dansby – Cardinals – 32 years
  3. Donald Butler – Chargers – 25 years
  4. Vinny Rey – Bengals – 26 years
  5. Perry Riley – Redskins – 26 years
  6. Brandon Spikes – Pats – 26 years
  7. Jon Beason – Giants – 29 years
  8. Pat Angerer – Colts – 27 years
  9. Desmond Bishop – Vikings – 30 years
  10. Daryl Sharpton – Texans – 26 years

I assume, based on past experience, that anyone with an age starting with the number three is likely not a candidate for the Browns. Also, I have no idea if Brandon Spikes will be considered as he’s had some high profile run-ins with the snow in New England. (Seriously though, he was reportedly nearly released by Belichick and company. I always assume information on a player like that will have an easy time finding its way straight to Michael Lombardi.) I’ve watched Pat Angerer play a good amount. His biggest issue is that he’s played in only 11 games in each of the past two seasons. In 2013 he was dealing with an undisclosed knee injury that he decided to play through until he couldn’t anymore and was placed on the IR in December.

If the Browns choose to address ILB in the draft, here are the top five again according to Walter Football.

Name – College – Projected Round

  1. C.J. Mosley – Alabama – 1-2
  2. Christian Jones – Florida State – 2-3
  3. Shayne Skov – Stanford – 2-3
  4. Yawin Smallwood – Connecticut – 2-3
  5. Chris Borland – Wisconsin – 3-5

For the Buckeyes fans, Ryan Shazier is considered a 4-3 OLB at Walter Football. He’s projected with a 1-2 round grade. I’m unsure what Pettine and the Browns’ thoughts are on players and how they project to their scheme in the NFL. Guys like UCLA’s Anthony Barr and Buffalo’s Khalil Mack are big time prospects with huge draft possibilities as well depending on how the Browns place them on their board.

We will see how the Browns address it this off-season. I expect them to be even more aggressive this year than last. We know they’ll have to be more aggressive in the draft with the number of picks they loaded up by trading picks last year. I expect the same thing in free agency because they can’t afford to leave the tiniest inkling that they haven’t supported their second first-time head coach in two years.

  1. Browns fans should remember Alonso from his athletic leap over the entire goal line scrum to grab Willis McGahee and prevent him from scoring. []
  • mgbode

    I agree with you on QBs (you didn’t mention Carr – good)
    I disagree on Benjamin (think he will flame-out in NFL — too many easy drops, doesn’t use his body well enough, no real separation). I prefer Watkins, Evans, Lee, Mathews and others to him.

    Skov wouldn’t be a terrible choice, but he’s about 5 or 6 on my ILB list. If we traded down in the 2nd to get another 3rd, then I’d like that choice.

    I like the idea of TE, but even you still list OG & RB as needs. Will be tough to pass up true needs for a luxury position. I’m not saying don’t do it, but it’d be tough.

    Overall though, love to start hashing through the draft prospects. It’s about time to start those up :)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Hmmmmmmmmm my reading comprehension is sluggish sometimes but let me think…one is named Travis and the other is named Kelvin, right? Oh wait Kelvin was on PEDs and Travis’s mother smoked, I got it now.

    Anyways no flame war I like women! 😉

  • mgbode

    and, you don’t have to waste a roster spot their rookie year because they’ll be on the IR!

  • Steve_Not_Chad

    Yeah, Benjamin has Greg Little hands.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I started two weeks ago dude!

  • Kildawg

    In terms of WR I think Allen Robinson out of PSU would be a solid late 1st/early 2nd pick as #2 WR. Need ILB2/DQ protégé in similar range as well.

  • mgbode

    one of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong.

    ah, that was funny. but, I still don’t like Kelvin much as a prospect :)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Practice squad baby!

  • mgbode

    he’s next on my list after Mathews.

  • mgbode

    yeah, but noone else wanted to join in. now that we have a HC, more are willing to comment.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Hey I couldn’t wait for the Cleveland Browns and for some reason when I try to call Josh McDaniels I get a recording telling me the number has been disconnected. Wtf. I mean I said he was smart for staying in New England, sheesh.

  • mgbode

    it’d cost more, but not prohibitive for a position like S where the tag starts at ~$8mil.

    If a team wishes to use the franchise tag on the same player it did the previous season the player will receive 120% of his previous year’s salary. For example, if the San Diego Chargers wanted to use their franchise tag on Vincent Jackson again this season they would have to pay him $13.7 million which is 120% of his 11.4 million from a year ago. If a team wants to tag a player for a third consecutive year the price tag jumps to 144% of their previous salary. This can be a very expensive proposition as using the franchise tag just once already makes a tagged player amongst the highest paid in the NFL at his position.


  • mgbode

    Megan told me to push for Gilbert though. So, still pretty cool.

    note: read that she was crying over how much pub her tweet got. if she somehow reads this board, then she should know we all LOVE the fact that she called it like it is. And, we got a nice catchphrase out of it. Hope she copyrighted it to make $$$ on the inevitable T-shirts.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Hey you know Megan? Hook a brotha’ up man besides me and her Pops got some talkin’ to do.

  • mgbode

    I only read 1 tweet from her. So, in today’s world, I think that makes us besties!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Ah well that’s about as sound as the Browns head coaching search I’m sure but me, pops and grandpops got some footballin’ to rap about!

  • Woods aka Holdenbeach1

    I am just dreaming of the flexibility between run blocking and posting up smaller DE’s or ILB’s. How would a defense cover a base offense that featured Gordon WR, Fiederowics TE, Cameron TE, and Kelvin Benjamin WR.

    I was looking at Benjamin because of his size. I can easily be talked into Matthews or Robinson quite easily with the second pick in the first round. I don’t think that Evans or Lee make it to pick 26 unless they run a slow time (>4.55) at the combine.

  • steve-o

    I’m in the Robinson camp too. He’s big, tough, sure handed and will fight for the ball. Plus he can play in bad weather. He’s been compared to Boldin, which is what I think we need.

  • CLE23

    the author, craig lyndall, said he is banning me from posting here as I am not contributing to the conversation. I’ve been here a couple of weeks, tops. is it normal for him to ban to anyone who directly (and comically) opposes his point of view?

    remember, craig wrote articles about how chud being fired hurt him in a profound way, even though chud lost 10 of his last 11 games. he also criticized the browns front office for every move they have made this offseason. yet my opinions don’t contribute anything?

    this is my farewell to this site. when you guys get a chance, please remind craig that he does not have an actual job with the browns, nor is he an actual beat reporter. he gets his information from watching the browns on tv and reading other websites. so the only difference between his opinions and ours is that ours must not offend his.

    and with all of his insight, he wrote above “Between the draft and free agency, I expect that to be a place the Browns make some moves.” whew, glad he cleared that up. I thought maybe the browns were going to grow their own players from scratch. craig’s genius is definitely needed here.

    bye ya’ll

  • mgbode

    If Benjamin isn’t a deal-breaker, then I like that even better. Our biggest issue at 26 might be that EVERYONE is going to know that we need a WR2 there.

  • Woods aka Holdenbeach1

    Thanks Pat. When I transferred to Ignatius from the Cathedral Latin Parking lot (Thanks Bishop Hickey!), they put me with the smart kids. Pat Leonard was one of the good ones in the class.

  • mgbode

    both are coming off ACL tears. don’t have have to put them on the PS.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Craig’s sentiments have nothing to do with your opinion on specific subject matter. They have to do with your comments that pertain to items other than the topic of the post—this includes discussing the author.

    We have a longstanding commenting policy. If you can’t abide by it, you will be banned without any further discussion.

  • saggy

    If you’re going on record, then I’m going on record. The past two seasons my record looked like: Peterson and Claiborne.

    So this season I’m staying down south and saying…..MANZIEL. Like Neil Young once said: “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.”

  • saggy

    I’d also think they could trade down into Tampa’s, Minny’s, or Buffalo’s spot and pick up either Watkins, Barr, or Mack. I’d be cool with that, too. Maybe that would actually be the best thing. get another 2nd rounder and probably a 4th next season.

  • saggy

    by “depth” do you mean “watching the game from the stands?”

  • saggy

    did you really watch many games? I never like to pinpoint one player in such a team sport but every – and i mean EVERY – time I saw a team complete 3rd and 10 on the Browns it was a receiver running away from #53.

  • saggy

    Byrd is the Word. Are Goldie Hawn, Finch, Krushinski, and Trumaine coming, too?

  • Robbie

    If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times. If you want a dominate defense, you have a dominate leading middle linebacker. Look at any of the great defenses and you’ll find just that.

  • Kildawg

    If he’s not picked in the 1st, I guarantee that O’Brien will make sure he get the best offensive threat he had last year to start the 2nd round.

  • Kildawg

    ILB2 is another position of need with lack of elite talent whereas the draft is stocked with WR talent. WR2 could wait until 35. Mosely at 26 would be awesome; plus Irsay’s reaction could be priceless.

  • Sam

    Skov in the third would be the steal of the century.

  • Pat Leonard

    I’ve never heard of another Pat Leonard, so I’m glad to hear that my doppelganger is so close to home!