As the Browns prepare to embark upon their second season under Pat Shurmur there are many questions that remain. With training camp opening Sat. July 28, we’re going to take a position-by-position analysis of the current roster as the team heads to camp over the next two weeks.
We’ve looked at the offense and now in part seven we look at the linebackers.
Candidates: Chris Gocong, D’Qwell Jackson, Scott Fujita, Kaluka Maiava, Quinton Spears, Benjamin Jacobs, James-Michael Johnson, Emmanuel Acho, L.J. Fort, JoJo Dickson, Craig Robertson.
The Browns went to training camp in 2011 with a very thin group of linebackers. D’Qwell Jackson was coming off of back-to-back seasons on injured reserve, Scott Fujita finished the season 2010 on the injured list, as well. Chris Gocong was the other projected starter and he had a pinched nerve in his neck missing the entire 2011 preseason.
Jackson proved the Browns faith in him to be valid as he had one of the best seasons of his career, finishing second in the NFL in tackles. Gocong played extremely well and the Browns signed him to a long-term contract. Fujita finished the season on injured reserve for the second-straight season.
In 2012, barring something unforeseen, Fujita will miss the first three games for his part in the Saints bounty scandal. Kaluka Maiava is expected to start on the weak side and Gocong on the strong side.
The Browns did draft two linebackers, James-Michael Johnson in the fourth-round and Emmanuel Acho in the sixth-round. Both are being counted on to compete for playing time, particularly Johnson, who might push Maiava for playing time.
Jackson (6-0, 240, 7th year, Maryland) – Jackson led the Browns with 158 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 3 fumble recoveries. He also had an interception. Jackson was second in the NFL to the Redskins’ London Fletcher. The Browns signed him to a long-term contract after the season.
Gocong (6-2, 263, 7th year, Cal Poly SLO) – Gocong started 10 games at weak side linebacker and the final 6 games on the strong side. He finished with 67 tackles, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble. The Browns signed him to a multiyear contract.
Fujita (6-5, 250, 11th year, California) – Fujita started 10 games and had 51 tackles with one interception, all at strong side linebacker. He missed one game with concussion and the last five games on injured reserve with a broken hand. Fujita played 9 games in 2010 before being placed on injured reserve. He hasn’t played 16 games since 2006 and at 33-years old, the Browns have to find his replacement in the near future.
Maiava (6-0, 229, 4th year, Southern Cal) – Maiava made six starts, taking over at weak side when Fujita went down. He finished with 24 tackles and is the leading candidate to replace Fujita for the first three games while Fujita is on suspension.
Spears (6-4, 234, 2nd year, Prairie View A&M) – Spears played in 13 games, but almost exclusively is a special teams player. He finished fourth on the team with 8 special team tackles. Spears missed three games with a hamstring injury.
Jacobs (6-4, 243, 1st year, Fresno State) – After a promising preseason, Jacobs spent the first 11 games on the practice squad, before being added to the active roster for the final five games. He did not make any tackles, but should be in the mix for depth at the position in 2012.
Dickson (6-1, 245, 1st year, Idaho) – Free agent signed during the off-season, but he will be long-shot to make the roster.
Robertson (6-1, 229, 1st year, North Texas) – Similar to Dickson, Robertson will need to make a fast impression to stay on the roster after being signed as a free agent.
Johnson (6-1, 240, Rookie, Nevada) – Johnson was a very productive player at Nevada and can play both on the inside and the outside. He was the Browns’ second pick in the fourth-round.
Acho (6-1, 240, Rookie, Texas) – Acho is another athletic player the Browns added for depth at linebacker. Acho was taken in the sixth-round.
Fort (6-0, 230, Rookie, Northern Iowa) – He is an undrafted rookie free agent that is hoping to make the practice squad if not the active roster.
Better than 2011?: The Browns had very little depth at linebacker in 2011, but were fortunate that Jackson and Gocong each played all 16 games. Fujita has shown he is at the end of his career. The Browns have to find his replacement, whether it is Maiava or either rookie Johnson or Acho.
The group is still not very deep and it would be a big bonus if Johnson or Acho can contribute immediately. It is very similar to the defensive line position where John Hughes and Billy Wynn are counted on to step in immediately.