Eric Barton Is Key To Rebuilding the Cleveland Browns Defense

Michael HeinbachCorrespondent IMay 28, 2009

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 7:  Eric Barton #50 of the New York Jets returns an interception against the Cleveland Browns during a preseason NFL game at Cleveland Browns Stadium on August 7, 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

There wasn’t a whole lot of fanfare when the Cleveland Browns signed former New York Jets linebacker Eric Barton in March. But after a just brief period of time with his new team and his old head coach, Barton has emerged as a leader on the defensive side of the ball.

New Browns head coach Eric Mangini brought Barton to Cleveland as one of seven ex-Jets to join the 2009 Browns, though Barton might be the most important addition.

The 31-year-old Barton is an 11-year NFL veteran who racked up 119 tackles in Mangini’s scheme last season, the most he’s had in a single year since 2003, when he collected a career-best 132 in his fifth and final season with the Oakland Raiders. He’s played in 16 games in each of the last three years and all but twice in his NFL career.

But what Mangini likes most about Barton, and most likely why he went after the linebacker in the free-agent market, is what Barton carries above his shoulder pads.

“His forte is getting all 11 guys going in the right direction, making sure they’re in their right spots,” Mangini said in his Wednesday press conference of Barton.

“Eric is incredibly smart and not just in terms of his ability to pick up the information, but his ability to process the information on the field...He has good toughness, but I’ve always respected his natural intelligence and his football intelligence.”

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Through the second week of the Browns’ voluntary mini-camp, Barton has become something of a coach on the field. He not only brings a wealth of knowledge amassed over a long NFL career, he adds a familiarity to Mangini’s 3-4 defense and his practice techniques. He’s also become a vocal presence in camp.

Barton has bought in wholeheartedly to the Mangini way and offered high praise for his system.

“(Mangini) is the smartest coach I’ve ever been around,” Barton told the New York Post. “He puts guys in positions to make plays. You always know you’re going to be well prepared to play the game.”

With Barton in the fold, the Browns have a reliable tackler who is sharing valuable knowledge with his new teammates.

Last season, the Cleveland defense consisted of Shaun Rogers and 10 other guys. This year, Barton should add a chemistry that will help the Browns defense play as more of a cohesive unit.

Look for Barton to shine this fall and quickly become a fan favorite due to his ability to swarm the football as well as to quarterback the defense. That will surely lead to the kind of progress that was lacking under former head coach Romeo Crennel.