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Browns 2012 review: Linebackers

Jan 17, 2013 -- 6:00am

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By Tony Grossi

The Morning Kickoff …

2012 position review: With all the post-season attention riveted on the Browns’ football operations overhaul, not much has been paid to the players. After the coach and personnel director are found, the roster will get a thorough review. This is the sixth in a periodic series analyzing the Browns’ position groups.

Position: Linebackers.

Players under contract (through year): Tank Carder (‘15), L.J. Fort (‘14), Chris Gocong (’14), D’Qwell Jackson (’16), James-Michael Johnson (’15), Adrian Moten (’13), Craig Robertson (’13).

Players not under contract: Scott Fujita, Kaluka Maiava,

Total snaps (incl. special teams): Jackson, 1,191; Robertson, 890; Maiava, 863; Fort, 429; Carder, 324; Johnson, 217; Fujita, 145; Gocong, 0; Moten, 0.

Most common starters: Johnson, Jackson, Maiava.

Analysis: In the Dick Jauron 4-3 defense, linebackers were prioritized below defensive linemen and cornerbacks. Thus, in the past two years, no linebacker was drafted higher than the fourth round. GM Tom Heckert acquired one in trade (Gocong), one in free agency (Fujita), and three others “off the street” (Fort and Robertson) or off waivers (Carder). Gocong’s Achilles tendon injury on the second day of training camp cost him the whole season after he signed a three-year contract extension the year before that paid him $4.5 million in 2012. That figure drops to $4.45 million in 2013, and is not guaranteed. Fujita’s last of three seasons with the Browns was marred by the Saints bounty program scandal – of which he was totally cleared – and a career-ending neck injury. The loss of Gocong and Fujita force-fed Johnson, Fort and Robertson into unexpected playing time. Their fresh legs and unfettered enthusiasm were badly needed. Ultimately, though, the best player at the position was Jackson, who was first on the team in tackles, fourth in interceptions, fourth in sacks and one of only two to score a defensive TD. Jackson was on the field for 96 percent of the defensive snaps.

Bottom line: The 4-3 system might never merit a high draft pick at linebacker. A switch to the 3-4 would mandate it.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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