CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns’ rotation at outside linebacker has gotten a whole lot younger over the last week.
The Browns parted ways with veterans Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo, and now, have a host of younger players competing for playing time, both as a starter or key reserve, for the defense under the direction of coordinator Ray Horton.
“We have to coach what we have and get those guys to play as well as we can get them to play,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “I don’t want to elaborate on decisions that were made by our staff. We are just going to move forward, coach what we have here and get these guys better.
“I think Ray will tweak some things. I think we have to. I think that is pretty obvious to get those guys the best opportunity so they can have success. At the end of the day, myself along with the rest of the coaching staff, our job is to put our players in the best position to have success. That’s what we’re going to do.”
Although Kruger was anxious to get down to the business of rushing opposing passers, something that he was not doing much of in the scheme utilized by head coach Mike Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil in 2015 after the veteran linebacker registered a career-best 11.0 sacks in 2014, his contract was terminated by the team on Monday.
Additionally, the Browns traded Barkevious Mingo to the New England Patriots for a fifth-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft last week.
Under Horton’s guidance in 2013, Mingo registered five sacks for 24 lost yards in 15 games, only three of which were starts. Since Horton’s departure, the Browns’ first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft registered just two sacks.
“Anybody who came to training camp had an opportunity, so it is not like we had already made a decision that we were letting these guys go,” Jackson said. “These guys had opportunities in games to prove themselves to earn a right to be on our football team. Like I said, the guys that went, we felt like we needed to move on from them, whoever they were.”
After a slow start to his rookie season in the National Football League, Nate Orchard came on strong over the final two months of 2015, particularly in the pass rush, and is now the Browns’ most veteran outside linebacker.
Over his final four games, Orchard registered the first three sacks of his career, including two in a win over the San Francisco 49ers at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 13th.
“Nate is doing very well with the leap from year one to year two,” outside linebackers coach Ryan Slowik said. “From year two mini-camp to year two training camp, your vision starts increasing. You start learning to how to play with different techniques, different assignments. He’s kind of expanding it, seeing those things and kind of trying to take advantage of his vision and things he can see and feel.”