Pettine sees depth at linebacker

BEREA, Ohio -- Whether it is inside or outside, Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine sees a lot of competition, and potential production, at linebacker.

And as part of that competition, Pettine, defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil and linebackers coach Chuck Driesbach are cross-training their players, having them learn both the inside and outside positions in an effort to put their best 11 on that side of the football on the field at all times.

"It's part of the program," Pettine said. "You just have to make sure that guys have their original position mastered or they're on their way to mastering it when they start to do some other things.

"When it's a 53-man roster, and all of a sudden, it's game day and you only 46 guys up, and you might have only three outside linebackers for two spots or three inside backers for two spots, you need a guy that can swing, and practice is the time to find that out, who can do what."

The Browns spent time and money to upgrade the outside linebacker position during the 2013 offseason. After signing Paul Kruger away from the Baltimore Ravens in free agency, the Browns selected Barkevious Mingo with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Adding Mingo and Kruger to a lineup that already featured Jabaal Sheard was supposed to bring success to the Browns' pass rush. But after Sheard and Mingo transitioned to outside linebacker from their natural positions of defensive end, the trio combined for 15 sacks.

"I don't want to compare it to last year," Pettine said. "If the play is available for them, they make it. We don't want to get into numbers like, 'We have to get so-and-so more sacks.' To me, we just want to play great defense. Wherever the wealth ends up, that's how it is. Usually, when we're playing great defense it's spread around."

Pettine believes having multiple pass rushers off the edge will allow the Browns to get creative on defense.

"We have some things where we have some guys walking around," Pettine said. "It's kind of an off-the-ball linebacker, a blitzer. When you have good players you don't want to be limited by a conventional scheme where, 'We're going to be cookie cutter. We have three pass rushers, but you're only allowed to have two ends out there at a time.'

"We can get creative, and they can rush against guards or rush two ends off of one side and get a mismatch on a back, force the protection to slide that way, and maybe, it frees up a guy on the other side. We'll only be limited by our own creativity with how we use those guys."

Although Kruger had half as many sacks for the Browns in 2013 as he did with the Super Bowl champion Ravens in 2012, Pettine believes he, Mingo and Sheard can be productive within coordinator Jim O'Neil's defensive scheme.

"It's hard for us to evaluate, but we're thrilled to have him here and have him on the roster," Pettine said of Kruger. "He's a guy we think can be one of the elite edge linebackers in this league and can set the edge in the run game. He's very aggressive, very violent with his hands. He can release off of blocks, and he has a knack for getting to the quarterback.

"Mingo has jumped out at us. It's evidence by how he came back -- he's put some weight on -- that he's done a real good job in camp as far as just paying attention to detail and taking coaching.

"You can see that he's made some big strides technique-wise since the spring. I think Sheard has been good as well. He's what we thought. He's strong with his hands. He's tougher for tackles in the run game and similar to Kruger. We see those guys as very similar."


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