To say the Browns are determined to get better at linebacker is one of the biggest understatements of the Eric Mangini era - although it is worth noting they could have had any linebacker in the draft with the exception Aaron Curry, taken fourth by the Seahawks. Instead, they did not draft a pure linebacker until they took Kaluka Maiava from USC in the fourth round.
In the second round the Browns drafted David Veikune from Hawaii and plan to convert him to an inside linebacker. Veikune, a defensive end in college, is making a huge jump to linebacker in the NFL.
Mangini is counting on more immediate production from a pair of linebackers he coached while running the Jets - Eric Barton and David Bowens. Barton is replacing Andra Davis, a six-year starter who signed as a free agent with the Broncos after the Browns did not retain him. Barton will line up next to D'Qwell Jackson inside.
"He's smart as heck," Jackson said. "He's sharp. It's a good thing I'm starting to know this stuff pretty well because he's a half-second ahead of me on making a read, changing a call, things like that. Right now everybody's learning but he's making it a lot easier on me because I know I can go to him if I'm not sure of anything."
Barton is in his fourth year with Mangini as his head coach and his 11th in the NFL. His familiarity with the defense Mangini likes to use and his willingness to help his new teammates makes him an immediate leader. That is important because Davis was a leader.
Barton has had 100 or more tackles four times in his career. He finished with 98 tackles in 2007. He started all 16 games last year and made 93 tackles.
"Coach Mangini is the smartest coach I've ever played for," Barton said."He puts guys in position to make plays. You know you'll always be prepared to play the game. When guys know their roles and buy in, this scheme works."
Bowens is another veteran who knows Mangini's system. He relates well to the Browns head coach after playing the last two seasons with the Jets.
Bowens might wind up starting at outside linebacker, He also plays defensive end as a pass rushing specialist on third down. He has played inside linebacker. He has done it all in a career that began in 1999 as a fifth-round draft choice of the Denver Broncos. He has played for Green Bay, Washington, and Miami before signing with the Jets.
"D-Bo has a lot of experience," Mangini said. "He is very smart. He has good instincts. He can help share some of that experience with those younger guys. He has made some mistakes that maybe he can prevent other guys from making. He has been in situations that could be new to those guys and he could help them think about it prior to getting into it.
"(Outside) was his starting point in New York, but he did end up starting five games for us at inside linebacker and did a nice job."