If the Cleveland Browns want to make their defense – and, more specifically, their pass rush -- better, then trying to make outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley better is a good place to start.
And the club seems to realize that.
Wimbley had a breakout first season in 2006, recording 11 sacks to break a 31-year-old club record for rookies. But he got less than half that total in 2007 – just five – and his production dipped yet again last year to four.
Whereas Wimbley played mostly on the right side – against the offensive left tackle in the prime pass-rushing spot – the last three years, new Browns head coach Eric Mangini and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan have been moving him from right to left and back again in these spring practices.
“Kamerion has definitely done a lot of positive things at outside linebacker already in his career,” Mangini said before Thursday morning’s OTA session. “We’ve been having him work at both sides and in other different roles, because the more versatile he is, the more we can give him.”
Mangini mentioned several other players he has coached in the past who have gotten themselves righted, and said that if Wimbley is willing to work as hard as they did, he sees no reason why that can’t also happen with him.
Mangini refused to use sacks as a measuring stick for Wimbley’s progress.
“Sacks tend to come in bunches,” he said. “They happen all at once, and then you go through a drought. What we’re trying to do is work on improving his weaknesses and help him to take advantage of his strengths. And to take advantage of a strength, you have to have good technique, so that’s what we’re stressing.”
Mangini has to be hoping his plan works. The Browns had just 17 sacks last year, their lowest total since they began tabulating that number in 1982. Actually, they’ve struggled to get sacks throughout this expansion era.
That, plus an inability to stop the run, has been a lethal combination for the Browns defense, and the reason why it has continually scuffled. A more productive Wimbley, both in rushing the passer and against the rush, would be a huge boost to correcting that.
Certainly, you could say that about any member of the front seven on the Browns defense with the exception of Shaun Rogers, who was outstanding last year with a team-leading 4.5 sacks from the nose tackle position and a number of other big plays.
But in Wimbley, you’re talking about the No. 13 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft who then went out as a rookie and justified that lofty selection. He’s shown he can do it.
Now, Mangini and Ryan need to figure out how to get him to do it again.