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Position Preview: Linebacker

Posted Jul 20, 2012

As the 2012 regular season approaches, ClevelandBrowns.com will take a look at the Browns, position-by-position. Today’s spotlight is on the linebackers.

Overview:

In 2011, the Cleveland Browns gave D’Qwell Jackson a chance to return to the field from back-to-back, pectoral-muscle tears that cost him most of the 2009 and all of the 2010 seasons. That one chance was all Jackson wanted, and he made the most of it.

Jackson led the Browns and the AFC with 158 total tackles. In addition to his tackles total, Jackson registered a personal-best of 3.5 sacks, which surpassed his career total of three over his previous five seasons combined. Jackson also recovered three fumbles, which was second-best in the NFL and first in the AFC.

On Feb. 27, the sixth-year linebacker signed a multi-year contract extension with the Browns. The announcement was made by team president Mike Holmgren.

“It’s definitely a blessing,” Jackson said when he signed the extension. “I can remember dating back to over a year ago when I didn’t know whether or not -- while I was injured and rehabbing -- I was doing the necessary things to get myself prepared for the upcoming season. When Coach Holmgren and the staff gave me the opportunity to come back and play, that’s all I needed. I’ve been through a lot, prepared and am ready to lead this team to a postseason and carry the young guys on this team.”

In the first three games of the season, Jackson registered 30 tackles, 24 solo stops, one forced fumble and 2.5 sacks. Because of his play, Jackson was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for September and later, selected as a first alternate for the AFC Pro Bowl team.

For his efforts in returning to the field after missing the 26 games, Jackson was named the team’s Ed Block Courage Award winner and finished second in the voting for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.

For Jackson, remaining in Cleveland and being a Brown for his entire career was something very important.

“It’s a feat that a lot of guys around my age and with the years that I have been in the league can’t say, to start somewhere and finish somewhere,” Jackson said. “That’s become important each and every day that I think about me being here next year, the year after that, the year after that. It’s important just to prove anybody wrong. I always carry a chip on my shoulder; I always want to put my best foot forward and I’ve never been dealt a great hand growing up, so I always had to go above and beyond. That’s been my life; that’s how I’m wired and that’s who I am.”

Key Number:

One-hundred-fifty-eight.

Jackson totaled 158 tackles and served as the middle linebacker in the Browns’ new 4-3 defense under coordinator Dick Jauron in 2011. He was second only to London Fletcher, a linebacker for the Washington Redskins and Cleveland native, for the league lead in tackles.

Players to Watch:

James-Michael Johnson and Emmanuel Acho.

Johnson was a fourth-round pick of the Browns, while Acho was selected with one of the team’s compensatory choices in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

Johnson, an inside linebacker, came to the Browns from the University of Nevada, where he was a four-year player for the Wolfpack. Johnson had his two most productive seasons in 2010 and 2011. Over the last two years, Johnson registered 105 solo tackles, 83 assists and 188 total stops. He collected five sacks for 32 lost yards, 16 tackles for lost yardage, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and five passes defended.

As a senior in 2011, he registered 54 solo stops, 46 assists and 100 total stops. He had two sacks for 15 lost yards, seven stops for 31 lost yards, three passes defended and one interception.

“He’s one of those linebackers that’s got position flexibility,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said during the draft. “He can play both outside spots and he’s played some snaps in the middle, so we feel good about him joining that group.”

Acho, a 6-foot-2, 245-pound linebacker, registered 158 solo tackles, 120 assists and 278 total stops over his career with the University of Texas Longhorns. He collected 64 solo tackles and 65 assists with 19 tackles for 39 lost yards as a senior. He also registered three sacks for 12 lost yards, six pass breakups, one forced fumble and 16 quarterback hits.

“Emmanuel Acho, an outside linebacker, is a terrific kid,” Shurmur said on the third draft of the NFL’s annual selection meeting. “He really is a terrific player, very eager.”

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