The Browns have a number of candidates to start at the four linebacker positions in Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan's complex version of the 3-4 defense.
Free agent signee Scott Fujita brings great size at 6'5", 243-lbs and intelligence to the Browns defense. He is capable of playing inside or out but is likely to start inside.
Matt Roth was acquired off waivers from the Miami Dolphins last year and showed a lot of pass rushing potential with four sacks in six games. Roth will probably be one of the two outside linebackers.
That leaves two positions open and at least eight candidates who believe they have a shot. Of the eight, David Bowens, Jason Trusnik and Chris Gocong can play either inside or out.
Bowens is like grandfather time. He is a veteran who Coach Mangini trusts and had an outstanding 2009. He can play either position with aplomb and is an effective blitzer and run stopper.
Trusnik surprised everybody on the Browns and in the NFL with his ability to play. Along with his status as a dual threat he seems to have an innate nose for the ball. He can play the run, cover and blitz.
Chris Gocong came from Philadelphia in the Sheldon Brown trade and was a dominant force as a pass rusher in college. Depending on the day and the writer, he projects inside and out in the Browns defense. He has an intense motor and is a big linebacker at 6'2", 260-lbs.
D'Qwell Jackson opened last season as a starter at inside linebacker and was playing well until an injury ended his season early. He is an excellent tackler who is adequate in coverage and rarely is called on to blitz.
David Veikune was a defensive end in college who the Browns tried to convert into an outside linebacker last year. The experiment didn't go very well and the Browns shifted gears and moved him inside where he seems to have blossomed. The team will find out for sure when the pads go on and the hitting starts.
Kaluka Maiava is primarily an inside linebacker who is a solid tackler and special teams performer. He is a tad undersized at 5'11" and 226-lbs but covers backs and tight ends. The former USC linebacker is also an effective blitzer in Rob Ryan's schemes.
Marcus Benard is a player the Browns have high hopes for as a pass rushing outside linebacker. Benard has a lightning quick first step and a couple of pass rushing moves. He needs to improve against the run and work on dropping back into coverage.
Eric Barton was an effective inside linebacker for the Browns last year prior to a neck injury that threatened his career. He was in organized team activities with the Browns but did not participate in any onfield drills. Barton will have a hard time making the team.
Blake Costanzo calls special teams his home and is a wedge busting mad man on kicking units. He always seems to have a nose for the ball. If he is in the game on defense then the Browns are in trouble.
Gocong seems to be the front runner for the outside linebacker position but Marcus Benard will give him some competition as will David Bowens. I see Bowens and Trusnik more as super subs who start the game on the bench but see plenty of action both inside and out in the course of it.
D'Qwell Jackson, Kaluka Maiava and David Veikune will be the primary opponents facing off for the vacant inside linebacker spot. Nobody could have predicted Veikune's development over the course of the offseason.