Picture if you will that you are a surgeon and you work on the heart. Now picture you are asked to perform surgery on the brain. You may have had some exposure to the brain but are far from and expert. You may someday become a great brain surgeon, but it is a crap-shoot. You could be a terrible brain surgeon or excel at it.
That is what teams drafting 3-4 linebackers do all the time. For the Browns, Chris Gocong, Marcus Bernard and Matt Roth must go back to being heart surgeons and use the skills they honed in college. They will now put that hand in the dirt every play and go after the quarterback.
Gocong, Bernard and Roth made their reputations in college as defensive ends rushing the passer. In the pros, they were asked to learn a whole new position as 3-4 linebackers. This will be a homecoming for these three players’ talents. Out of the three of them, one will have to rise to contribute, and another can be found in a draft deep with 4-3 ends and 4-3 defensive tackles.
The linebacker positions are up for grabs as far as who will be at the weak side and who will be in the middle. Scott Fujita is a very intelligent linebacker that is like having another coach on the field, but in a 4-3 he does not necessarily have the speed to get to the “A” and “B” gaps. Looking at the fact that Jason Trusnik may be a starter tells the organization that they have to secure a linebacker in the draft that can play right away.
Chris Gocong will more than likely keep his role as one of the starting 4-3 linebackers, but his lateral quickness will be in question, and Cleveland may go after another linebacker that has more explosion to the hole.
Casey Matthews from Oregon should be around in the fourth or fifth round, or Ross Homan from Ohio State or Mark Herzlich out of Boston college.
Possible returners and starters on the Browns new 4-3 defense are as follows:
Mike Linebacker: D’Qwell Jackson,
Jackson is small for a 4-3 linebacker but is quick and if the Browns secure a solid Defensive tackle to put next to Ahtyba Rubin than he should be free to fill those gaps. His speed to the hole is not in question his being prone to injuries is in question.
As a 4-3 linebacker he should even be more effective if he can stay healthy. His true ability can be realized if he wins the starting job.
Weak Side Linebacker: Chris Gocong
Gocong is interesting in that he was productive last year but not spectacular. Picking up an athletic teachable linebacker in the draft could be key. If the Browns can draft a linebacker to play along side two veterans in Jackson and Fujita, he may be able to press for playing time.
Fujita and Jackson are like having two coaches on the field and can instruct the rookie to get them up to speed. Gocong is best suited as filler because he can play all three linebacker spots. If a starting linebacker can be had in the draft, Gocong can instantly add depth.
Strong Side Linebacker: Scott Fujita
Fujita is coming off knee surgery but should be serviceable as a SAM linebacker. His knowledge and anticipation helped the Browns immensely last year and there was clearly a drop off of performance when he went down with injuries. Like Jackson, a lot of his production will depend on the front four.
Defensive ends: Matt Roth, Marcus Bernard (both played DE in college)
Defensive interior line: Ahtyba Rubin, Robaire Smith, Brian Shaefering
Cornerbacks: Joe Haden, Sheldon Brown, Eric Wright, Coye Francise
Strong Safety: Abram Elam
Free Safety: TJ Ward
The defensive end position is where the Browns may get lucky if either Roth or Bernard play like they have flashed in games. If Roth or Bernard can apply the heat from one side, the Browns have ample opportunity to put a playmaker on the opposite side of the defensive line.
There is a possibility Cameron Heyward drops to the second round he would be an immediate starter next to Rubin at defensive tackle. Another scenario is if the Bengals select A.J. Green instead of going defense, Cleveland could have Robert Quinn at defensive end or Marcell Dareus at the defensive tackle spot.
If they were to go best athlete and he is still on the board, they could also put Patrick Peterson next to Joe Haden to have a tandem to be reckoned with for the next 10 years. Cleveland’s pick is a no-lose situation.
What the Browns cannot do is waste their first-round pick on a maybe. Whoever they chose has to be a Day 1 starter. They cannot afford iffy hands at receiver or sketchy character, as they have done in the past. If they go receiver they cannot afford another Braylon Edwards and if they go defense they cannot afford another Courtney Brown.
There will be free agency this year at some point, so fans have to stand pat and wait as the draft lays the road map for the Browns. Whatever they do not pick up in the draft will be the free agent they covet.
If the Browns go offense with the first pick, look for a Cameron Heyward out of Ohio State, Brooks Reed from Arizona, Justin Houston out of the University of Georgia or even Sione Fua from Stanford. Any of these players can earn a starting spot on the front four.
The corner spot is secure and can be a strength if they concentrate on getting the front seven solid. The corners won’t be tasked with covering receivers indefinitely if pressure is put on opposing quarterbacks.
One strength the Browns have is that their defensive backs can tackle in open space. The emergence of Joe Haden has made selecting another athletic corner later in the draft a bonus as opposed to a necessity. Look for a player like Chimdi Checkwa out of Ohio State or Shareece Wright out of USC, but Marcus Gilchrist out of Clemson has been on their radar for awhile now.
This can be a solid year for the Browns in the draft as their needs and availability of athletes seem to be a match. Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert have an opportunity to compete this year if they maneuver the draft intelligently.
If the Browns can come out of this draft with a defensive end, defensive tackle and a cornerback the can consider this a successful draft from the defensive side. They are picking high enough in each round that quality athletes can be added to the pieces already in place.