Cleveland Browns 2009 Positional Rankings: Inside Linebackers

Nicholas GalizioCorrespondent IJuly 6, 2010

In this fourth edition of Cleveland’s positional rankings, we’ll take a look at a position that was difficult to gauge in 2009—the inside linebackers.

An early-season injury to Eric Barton, coupled with a mid-season injury to D’Qwell Jackson meant that some players were playing out of position, and some younger players may have seen playing time too early.

This is what typically happens when both of your starters are put on injured reserve.

Now, I know we're all used to this, and it seems to happen every year, but fear not fellow Browns fans. A few things were discovered last year along the journey.

David Bowens made the switch to ILB and actually played really well, plus Kaluka Maiava received significant playing time later in the season. Although he didn’t fare extremely well overall, there were some bright spots in regards to certain areas of his game.

Let's get to it.

I decided to list the rankings of both 3-4 ILBs and 4-3 MLBs to more accurately assess where the Browns are as a team on defense.

Note—Rankings are out of 31 total 3-4 ILBs and out of 54 total combined 3-4 ILBs and 4-3 MLBs that played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps to qualify.

Overall Rankings

3-4 ILBs
David Bowens—9th
D’Qwell Jackson—14th
Eric Barton—21st
Kaluka Maiava—30th

3-4 ILBs and 4-3 MLBs
David Bowens—16th
D’Qwell Jackson—31st
Eric Barton—41st
Kaluka Maiava—53rd

Through a position change, Bowens played his tail off and earned himself a very high ranking. Overall, Jackson played pretty well before his injury, and Barton was below-average. It’s a very small sample size for Barton, so don‘t look too far into it.

What’s alarming is that Bowens actually played better than Jackson during his time at ILB.

Chalk it up to Maiava being a rookie. For comparison’s sake, he didn’t do much worse than Channing Crowder, Dhani Jones, or Jerod Mayo in 2009, so there’s only room to improve as last year was his rookie campaign.

Also, his best game far and away was at home against Pittsburgh. That’s also a good thing. Although, if he doesn’t continue to improve next year on his overall game, the Browns probably won’t rely on him to be a starter in the future.

Pass Rushing

3-4 ILBs
David Bowens—3rd
D’Qwell Jackson—14th
Eric Barton—21st
Kaluka Maiava—25th

3-4 ILBs and 4-3 MLBs
David Bowens—3rd
D’Qwell Jackson—20th
Eric Barton—33rd
Kaluka Maiava—43rd

David Bowens did really well pass rushing as an ILB last year. It’s weird, but he was better at ILB than OLB last year. The rest? So so, I guess. As the season wore on, the D-Line, Roth and company did well enough against the run for it not to matter as much for our ILBs to make plays because they were eating up all the stats.

Against the Run

3-4 ILBs
D’Qwell Jackson—12th
David Bowens—14th
Eric Barton—20th
Kaluka Maiava—27th

3-4 ILBs and 4-3 MLBs
D’Qwell Jackson—25th
David Bowens—28th
Eric Barton—34th
Kaluka Maiava—44th

D’Qwell Jackson actually did better against the run than what was anticipated. So much for his “tackles eight yards downfield” nonsense. Bowens as usual was solid. He really turned out to be one of the best free agent pickups for Cleveland last year.

Pass Coverage

3-4 ILBs and 4-3 MLBs
Eric Barton—36th
David Bowens—38th
D’Qwell Jackson—43rd
Kaluka Maiava—53rd

Every single one of Cleveland’s ILBs had a negative pass coverage rating. That is really, really bad. Also, Cleveland’s ILBs as a whole were actually thrown at the fewest times of any ILB group or MLB group in the entire league, meaning that even in limited opportunities, they did absolutely awful.

I worry what the numbers would look like if they did have to cover WRs, TEs, and RBs more often.

This tells me that Rob Ryan might have hung our secondary out to dry all season long.

A large number of Browns fans have been blaming only our cornerbacks and safeties, when these numbers tell us more of the entire story, because now it can be seen that it wasn’t all their fault. You’ll see why when you see the Browns secondary ratings—especially the cornerbacks.

QB Sacks

3-4 ILBs
David Bowens—3rd (5)
Kaluka Maiava—11th (3)

3-4 ILB’s and 4-3 MLB’s
David Bowens—3rd (5)
Kaluka Maiava—11th (3)

Jackson and Barton had zero sacks in their playing time. So, out of 40 sacks on the year, the Browns ILBs had eight total. This number could be better, but overall it was around the league average, so no real complaints from me in this area, especially considering the defense’s overall sack total. This was a far cry from the way Romeo Crennel chose to run this defense. 

It’s good to see that Maiava has a nose for getting to the quarterback.

QB Hits

3-4 ILBs and 4-3 MLBs
David Bowens—6th (5)
D’Qwell Jackson—22nd (2)
Eric Barton—35th (1)
Kaluka Maiava—35th (1)

QB Pressures

3-4 ILBs and 4-3 MLBs
David Bowens—4th (10)
Eric Barton—20th (5)
D’Qwell Jackson—33rd (3)
Kaluka Maiava—50th (1)

Having significant injuries to both of the starting ILBs ultimately hindered this unit’s overall numbers in tackles, hits, and pressures—but Bowens still finished sixth in QB hits with five, and fourth in QB pressures with ten.  Being a pass rusher on the outside most likely helped him make the transition to pass rushing on the inside.

Total Tackles

3-4 ILBs and 4-3 MLBs
D’Qwell Jackson—41st (41)
Eric Barton—42nd (38)
David Bowens—49th (27)
Kaluka Maiava—49th (27)

These numbers don’t necessarily need to be great as long as Cleveland’s defensive line and outside linebackers play well.

Major Moves

Cleveland shipped Kamerion Wimbley off to Oakland and a couple of weeks later acquired the services of Chris Gocong in a trade with Philadelphia. This is beneficial because Gocong can also play on the inside and is better against the run.

Not only that, but Cleveland was able to land Scott Fujita fresh off a Super Bowl victory who was the leader of the Saints defense.

D’Qwell Jackson eventually signed his tender and still looks to be in the mix for a starting job, although this is easily the most competition he’s had since he’s been in Cleveland.

2010 Outlook

Cleveland now has a logjam at ILB, having both veterans and young bucks on the roster. It seems that the guys with the most experience will start from the beginning. With Barton still a question mark, that leaves Fujita and Jackson as the most likely starting duo.

Expect to see Kaluka Maiava receive playing time in nickel packages and passing situations. As for David Veikune, look for him to be brought in as a pass-rusher on third down playing on the inside or outside... and maybe even along the defensive line. These two will most likely continue to be brought along slowly.

Fun Facts

In 2008 for Philadelphia, Chris Gocong was ranked seventh against the run, and tenth overall out of 77 outside linebackers. In 2007, Gocong finished ranked second against the run behind only Demarcus Ware and was ranked 14th overall—and this was out of 72 total 3-4 and 4-3 OLBs.

It looks like Cleveland added a significant run stopper. Although he’ll probably see more time on the outside, there’s a reason he, along with Veikune are learning to play ILB...it’s so they can both be as versatile as they possibly can.

Yet, after a below-average 2009 and still at the young age of 26, it doesn’t look like Gocong necessarily needed a change of “scenery” as much as he needed a change of “schemery.”   When Sean McDermott took over for the late great Jim Johnson, the productivity for Gocong immediately decreased due to changes in defensive schemes.

Once he became expendable to Philadelphia and was put on the market, it’s no wonder Cleveland came calling because he’s exactly the type of versatile, big linebacker that the coaching staff loves. Not only has he proven he can be extremely productive in this league, but he was also a bargain.

Looking at his actual snaps per game, Kaluka Maiava actually played better the more playing time he received. As his snaps increased, so did his productivity. This is a good sign that he was starting to figure things out as the season went on.

Kaluka Maiava also had two forced fumbles in limited playing time.

If you divide snaps played by total sacks, as a rookie Kaluka Maiava finished third in the entire league for every single ILB and MLB behind only David Bowens and Lawrence Timmons. I guess this would be the sacks per snap category... or something like that.

I found it interesting anyway.

Closing Thoughts

In all, this was probably the most difficult position to get a feel for in 2009.  With injuries to Jackson and Barton early in the year, the fact that Cleveland had a fourth round rookie playing extensively later in the year, and Bowens playing out of position for half the season…it’s easy to see why the defense struggled.

Going by the numbers, I’d say we lost a lot in the speed department when Jackson went down, and our ILB unit and overall team defensive pass-coverage suffered later in the year as a result. Basically, the Browns were severely limited on defense because of it.


Jason Trusnik played 225 snaps at ILB, but had negative rankings in every category except against the run.  David Veikune played 16 snaps, and Blake Costanzo played eight.

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Cleveland Browns 2009 Positional Rankings: Defensive Ends

Cleveland Browns 2009 Positional Rankings: Nose Tackles

Cleveland Browns 2009 Positional Rankings: Outside Linebackers

Cleveland Browns 2009 Positional Rankings: Cornerbacks

All rankings are based from profootballfocus.com . Stats don’t tell the entire story, but they do reveal a lot and these stats are about as close as you’re going to get in terms of judging a player’s overall season—position by position, game by game, and play by play.


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