The Evolution of the Browns' 3-4 Defense Part II - The Linebackers

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Out on the Edges

We now move to the edges -  and back to my stupid car analogy.

In Part I, I likened the nose tackle to the keys of a car ignition. My reasoning? These big boys get the process rolling by controlling the line of scrimmage and occupying blockers, but like your car keys,  they don’t guarantee success in and of themselves. As I mentioned previously in this post, it’s the two inside linebackers that must capitalize on the efforts of the nose and bring down the ball carrier. For all intents and purposes then, they’re the brakes.

Continuing my clever automobile theme and moving on to the all-mighty outside linebackers of a 3-4 defense, well they’re the engine that makes that baby purr – or whimper.

A lot is asked of the two outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense. First and foremost, they MUST be able to apply pressure from the edges.  They also must be stout against the run and have the ability to drop into coverage.

Versatility and athleticism are an absolute requisite for OLB’s of a 3-4 defense, and effective defenses must get consistency from these two very important spots.

Ideally, though, you want these two not just to be solid, but to be disruptive. That’s what you shoot for, and as much I hate to say anything positive about the Pittsburgh Steelers, there’s not a better pair of outside linebackers than James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. These two just create absolute chaos for opposing offenses around the league (and against us twice a year). Over the past two seasons, this duo has combined for a ridiculous 51 sacks and 15 forced fumbles. Those are the kind of numbers that keep both offensive coordinators and quarterbacks up late at night.

In short, offensive coordinators won’t be losing much sleep over any outside linebackers the Browns may use on the edge. And it’s safe to say there’s not a DeMarcus Ware hidden in the bunch.

Instead, there’s Matt Roth, newcomer Chris Gocong from the Eagles, old steady David Bowens, and possibly second-year player Marcus Bernard. None of these guys are dominant, disruptive outside linebackers individually – there’s no getting around that. But that doesn’t mean that the Browns defense can’t be disruptive.

After all, Roth demonstrated his ability to get to the quarterback last season by posting 4 sacks in 6 games, as did Bowens (5.5) and Bernard (3.5) in his limited action.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of pass rushing potential from Gocong – in spite of his limited production over 3 seasons with the Eagles (just 4 sacks).

None of these guys are studs, but all four have the potential to pressure the Quarterback under the right coaching and strategy.

It’s on You, Coach Ryan…

Ultimately, what we’re really going to learn from our linebackers is how good of a defensive coordinator Rob Ryan really is, because he’s going to have to coach and scheme his ass off this year with this unit.

Individually, none of our linebackers will wow you, but collectively they are all versatile, smart veterans that are capable of solidifying a position that has long been a weakness for the Browns.

Ryan’s gonna have to mix-and-match with this group and get creative in applying pressure, but for whatever reason I’m drinking the pre-training camp koolaid.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I think that this group of guys can get the job done.


(Stay tuned for Part III, where I’ll briefly look at the secondary. And sorry for the delay between Part I and II. I was out of town.)

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Tags: Chris Gocong Cleveland Browns D'Qwell Jackson Eric Barton Matt Roth Rob Ryan Scott Fujita

  • barry

    remember the all pro day andra davis had against buffalo? the snow was a factor, but not a single OL blocked him all day. the point is that it doesn’t matter how good your linebackers are in a 3-4 if they have to shed blocks from offensive linemen. and if rogers is getting upfield from an end position instead of at NT, that’s going to leave OL’s getting free to block down field.

  • Coach Mark

    Dude, this is a pretty good assessment of the Browns’ linebackers, but you forgot a name. Where does Jason Trusnik fit in? All he did was come to us in the Braylon Edwards trade and step right into a starting spot. He also showed a great deal of versatility playing both inside and outside spots as well as many special teams. And the coaches like the kid. …And he was the first restricted free agent to sign his tender, without any fanfare. He’s exactly the kind of guy Mangini is looking for, tough, smart and lives for football. And he’s one of us, a Nordonia grad playing for his hometown team. C’mon show him a little love…

    • hank in naples

      Coach Mark:

      And don’t forget he is a product of Manginis much maligned “oportunity periods” and just now getting a chance to start. His upside is terrific.

    • Bernie Dawkins

      My bad for excluding Trusnik. I didn’t forget him, I just didn’t have time to include him because I was trying to post Part II before work.

      No excuses, tho. Dude is a versatile, solid option at LB for us.

      Sorry for not giving him a little love – he deserved it.

  • Bernie Dawkins

    On a side note: I actually played against Trusnik in college.
    And by “played”, I mean my team played against him. I was actually holding the clipboard, and I have no regrets about that considering I saw Trusnik absolutely decapitate our QB on a bootleg. It was just brutal. DAMN!

  • Hamfist

    This group reminds me of the Pats SB group in a couple of ways.

    One, there are not any real superstars, as was stated, but a solid group of TEAM players. That, in and of itself, is a very potent weapon.

    Secondly, we seem to be recruiting/signing a group with a paticular mindset. Professional, committed, and standup players. with the slight anomaly of Roth’s offseason posturing, I don’t recall any news of a gun/drug/fighting/etc. nature from this group. I may be wrong, but it seems as if we’re morphing more and more toward a Patriots type of organization. Which in my opinion is a great thing.