Shuffling the Linebacker Corps:
I was a bit intrigued by the releases of both Quentin Groves and Larry Grant. The former was a decent player last year, and was the incumbent special teams’ captain for the Cleveland Browns. Grant, meanwhile, has been in the league for six seasons (most memorably with the St. Louis Rams) and was figuring to play a prominent role in the 3-4 defense run by Jim O’Neil. However, both were let go recently and now the team will move forward with their current crop of linebackers.
On the Inside – Where’s the Depth?
The two athletes picked up in the past few months will likely be given an opportunity to become starters in 2014. Karlos Dansby and rookie Chris(tian) Kirksey are those guys; the former is all but a lock while the latter will have to extremely impress in training camp to get the nod at Heinz Field. In addition, 2013 starter Craig Robertson might display an improvement from his 2013 campaign. The athlete’s main detriment was in pass coverage – you could bet that coaches will be focusing on this aspect in the coming months. I would anticipate eight-year veteran Zac Diles being a backup inside linebacker this season. Being in spot duty is the likely option, as the former Kansas State star eclipsed eighty tackles in a year just once and has only one career sack. The final two options appear to be Tank Carder and Darius Eubanks. Each started one game last year with mediocre results.
Scheming on the Outside:
Now that Quentin Groves is no longer a pass rusher on this roster, the Browns are left with three primary guys whose job is to destroy opposing signal callers. Barkevious Mingo, Paul Kruger, and Jabaal Sheard are those athletes who will occupy the outside linebacker spots. In some situations (likely third down and many yards to gain), there’s a strong possibility that all three will be on the field at the same time. Assuming the trio is healthy for all of 2014, I feel completely confident in this aspect of the roster. However, injuries are a part of the game and linebacker is a violent position. Brandon Magee and Eric Martin will be utilized more in special teams but who knows should a starter be unable to participate. Would the Browns switch Chris Kirksey to the outside? I know coach Pettine likes to move his guys around (and many believe the coach knows what he’s doing) so this is also an option.
Conclusion: “Trimming the fat” occurred at a part of the roster that was far from dominant last campaign. I will admit that the depth that Groves and Grant provided increased my confidence with the Browns’ linebackers, but now other athletes will have to pick up the slack. As alluded to earlier, Mike Pettine has made stars out of his linebackers (i.e. Bart Scott, David Harris, and Kiko Alonso). Therefore, my faith may be a little blind, but I am willing to bet that this part of the Browns’ defense will be a solid one.