Cleveland Browns' defense need inside 'backers to lead

CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns overhauled their inside linebacker corps during the offseason, but the mission for the men in the middle of Ray Horton’s 3-4 defensive scheme remains the same.

After releasing Karlos Dansby and letting Craig Robertson walk in free agency, the Browns signed veteran Demario Davis, drafted Scooby Wright III and gave an opportunity to compete for a starting job to third-year defender Christian Kirksey. But regardless of what combination starts for the Browns, the expectation is for them to emerge as leaders.

“The inside linebackers run the defense,” inside linebackers coach Johnny Holland said. “He’s the guy that makes all the calls and does the talking. Demario, he’s a natural leader. One thing that Demario does is he leads by example.

“He knows how to motivate guys and bring guys along. He’s not a leader that beats guys down, but when he stands up and makes a point, he can get his point across. We’re very excited about Demario. I think he has potential to be one of the top linebackers in the NFL.”

In 64 career games with the New York Jets, who selected him in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Davis registered 349 total tackles, including 230 solo stops and 119 assists to go along with 6.5 quarterback sacks.

Also, Davis has defended eight passes and intercepted another with the Jets.

A starter in all 16 games for the Jets in each of the last three seasons, Davis had his best NFL year in 2014, when he registered 116 total tackles, 79 solo stops, 3.5 sacks and five passes defended, all of which were single-season career highs for the Collins, Mississippi, native and former Arkansas State standout.

“Demario has a huge impact with our group and on our defense,” Holland said. “Overall, Demario’s a natural leader. He leads by his example of his hard work and his dedication to learn what we’re trying to do on defense. He’s a relentless leader. We’re glad to have him.”

In two years with the Browns since joining the club as a third-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft out of the University of Iowa, Kirksey has totaled 158 tackles, including 75 solo stops and 53 assists, to go along with 5.5 sacks for 20 lost yards, two forced fumbles and one recovery over 32 games with 13 starts.

“Chris is blessed with a lot of athletic ability, for sure,” Holland said. “Just what I’ve seen of Chris from last year, he didn’t get a lot of playing time, and they say he wasn’t as physical as what they like. I’d say Chris is a physical player. He’s got a lot of ability to come downhill and thump. He doesn’t shy away from contact. He can cover tight ends, running backs, a great athlete. He will be a great asset to our group and our defense.”

As the Browns begin their preparations for the regular season, which opens up against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, September 11, Holland likes what he sees from the combination of Kirksey and Davis.

“Chris and Demario make a great tandem of two linebackers,” Holland said. “They communicate great together. They feed off of each other, play off of each other. Chris plays with a lot of energy and he brings a lot of energy to the group and to the defense.

“That’s what you need to play great defense. The sky is the limit for him. I’m expecting him to have a lot of accolades as a person, as a player.”


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