For the seventh time in eight drafts conducted by three different coaches, the Browns last month spent their first-round draft choice on an offensive player. It isn't the only reason the defense annually finishes near the bottom of the NFL statistically, but it is a contributing factor.
So coach Eric Mangini and general Manager George Kokinis concentrated on shoring up the defense in free agency and in the draft starting with David Veikune, their third of three picks in the second round. Prior to Veikune the Browns drafted center Alex Mack from California with the 21st pick in the first round plus wide receivers Brian Robiskie (36th overall) and Mohamed Massaquoi (50th overall) of Ohio State and Georgia in the second round.
Veikune was an end at Hawaii. He is being converted to inside linebacker. Kaluka Maiava was an outside linebacker at Southern California. He will play inside linebacker with the Browns.
Two key free-agent signings and former Jets -- Eric Barton and David Bowens -- are linebackers. Barton is the projected starter inside next to D'Qwell Jackson and Bowens is a contender to start at left outside linebacker.
Mangini doesn't have to say as much, because it is obvious he believes linebacker, excluding Jackson and Kamerion Wimbley, was the weak link to the defense that finished 26th overall last year and allowed 16 rushing touchdowns. It is why he is willing to take a chance on a player such as Veikune to not only make the jump from the Western Athletic Conference to the NFL but to switch from end to linebacker while he is doing it. Veikune might end up as an outside linebacker, but in the rookie minicamp he was an inside linebacker.
"It has been positive," Mangini said. "His change-of-direction (agility), his ability to communicate the defense and his understanding of concepts has all been good.
"I brought him up to the board in the squad meeting and he had to draw a full blitz with everyone -- defensive linemen, linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks. He got it right. He nailed it."
Barton and Bowens do not have as much to learn as Veikune and Maiava, not only because they are veterans but because they played in Mangini's system with the Jets. Their first chance to show the rookies what they know comes in the first voluntary full-squad minicamp starting May 19.
For the first three years he was with the Browns, Jackson started alongside Andra Davis the majority of the time. Davis signed with Denver in free agency; the Browns did not try to stop him.
The upcoming minicamp and another one later this month, plus the mandatory June minicamp and training camp will give Jackson time to work in sync with Barton as he did with Davis.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The biggest thing that I'm going to have to work on is getting acclimated to the speed of the game. I know it's going to be a lot faster. The faster I can get the speed down and the playbook down, the better I will be." -- Browns rookie defensive back Don Carey on making the jump from Norfolk State to the NFL.