Spotlight Now on Rookie Linebackers in Cleveland Browns' Defense

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Spotlight Now on Rookie Linebackers in Cleveland Browns' Defense
Jason Miller/Getty Images

When the Cleveland Browns used two mid-round draft picks to select linebackers James-Michael Johnson and Emmanuel Acho, they probably didn't expect them to start right away.

However, that's just the situation they find themselves in after NFL.com reported that Chris Gocong suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in training camp. With fellow 2011 starter Scott Fujita set to serve a three-game suspension to begin the season, the Browns need Johnson and Acho to quickly prove themselves starting-calibre.

Fourth-round selection Johnson is a powerfully-built plugger, whom the Browns hope can help solidify their soft run defense. He possesses excellent tackling technique and packs a punch in short areas.

Johnson is not the most explosive, downhill athlete, but that might not be an issue in the Browns' scheme. Coordinator Dick Jauron's system doesn't demand a lot of blitzing from linebackers or force them into trailing receivers in man coverage.

However, even with short zone drops and limited gap responsibility, Johnson probably won't be a factor in nickel and dime packages. That leaves Acho or Kaluka Maiava to fill a spot in Jauron's 3-3-5 nickel and 3-2-6 dime fronts.

The ex-Texas standout is more of a flow player. He has the agility and quickness to make plays sideline-to-sideline and is athletic enough to handle coverage responsibilities.

Acho also offers decent blitz skills, and the sixth-round pick could tempt Jauron to include more stunts between members of his front seven in the playbook. In 2011, the Browns' starting linebackers combined for only seven sacks, split equally between Gocong and D'Qwell Jackson.

Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com has reported that Johnson has displayed starting potential during training camp. Acho's quickness will also put him in the mix, along with unheralded youngsters L.J. Fort and Craig Robertson.

If these youngsters can step up, then the Browns can easily recover from the loss of the veterans on the outside. Cleveland's defense needs to get faster, particularly at linebacker, and although they will miss the size offered by Gocong and Fujita, being able to flow to the ball quicker might be the best way to improve their shoddy run defense.

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