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

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On the Inside

Once again, it all starts in the middle of the second level for a 3-4 defense like the Browns run.

Joe Collier, longtime defensive assistant for the Broncos and architect of Denver’s famed “Orange Crush” 3-4 defense of the ’70’s, identified the inside linebackers as being two of the most important positions of a 3-4. After all, it’s the two inside linebackers of 3-4 defenses that must capitalize on the grunt work performed by the nose tackle. They gotta make the tackles, plain and simple.

In fifth-year linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, we at least have a guy that can make some tackles. I mean, he’s not disruptive by any stretch of the imagination like Ryan said over at Dawgs By Nature , but he did post 154 tackles two seasons ago, and he was racking up the stops in the six games he played in 2009 before he was sidelined with a season-ending shoulder injury – so the guy can at least find the ball carrier. He’s by no means a force, but he’s a solid option in the middle. With a year of Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan’s system under his belt and assuming he’s healthy, there’s no reason to view Jackson as an obstacle in the defenses pursuit towards respectability this season.

Moving on…

I liked the idea of Eric Barton a year ago, but it scares me to think he could possibly be the Browns other starter on the inside. No disrespect to Barton and his very solid career, BUT he is entering his 12th season in the league coming off a serious neck injury. I think it’s fair to surmise that his best days are behind him.

In all likelihood, though, I expect we’ll see newcomer Scott Fujita, or even David Bowens, start opposite Jackson. Neither will wow you, but both are reliable veterans that are capable of playing in the middle and bringing down the ball carrier on a semi-frequent basis.

The only other options worth mentioning would be second-year players, Kaluka Maiava of USC and David Veikune of  Hawaii.  Personally, I prefer the former to the latter heading into the 2010, but I’m none the less intrigued by Veikune’s transition to the inside. I’m not expecting much of anything from him based entirely on what I saw of him last year while he was playing on the edge, but I do believe he has a much better chance of succeeding in the middle. In all truthfulness, though, he’s going to have to improve by leaps and bounds in his second season if he wants to make a career out of this whole NFL thing.

All in all,  the Browns options at the two inside spots are far from overwhelming.

Even so,  you can do worse than having a tackling machine and a veteran fresh off a Super Bowl victory as your inside linebackers, which is ultimately how I see it shaping up . Neither of them are dominant by any stretch of the imagination,  but if Rubin proves to be the real deal at nose tackle and one of the rookie safeties is able to step up as an in-the-box hitter (more on this in Part III), then it’s not ridiculous to believe that this duo is enough to strengthen a defense that ranked 28th against the run last season.