Browns Mailbag

Browns Mailbag: Who's the answer at LB after Demario Davis trade?

The final OTA of 2017 is coming to a close. [

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Veteran minicamp awaits before players depart for a month-plus of summer vacation.

We're not taking a break at ClevelandBrowns.com anytime soon. We've got five questions to tackle on a sunny, warmer day in Berea.

Any indication if the Browns are going to a 3-4 defense or a 4-3? -- Paul M., Erie, Pennsylvania

After watching a handful of OTAs and hearing from a number of players, it's clear the Browns will be utilizing more 4-3 sets this season than they have in recent years. The team has displayed a number of four-man fronts and players such as Emmanuel Ogbah and Myles Garrett have been in their comfort zone as 4-3 ends. Still, it's important to remember how little some teams around the league play out of their base defense. The potency of high-octane, spread-the-field offenses forces teams to play five or more defensive backs at a time. That means the Browns will be playing out of nickel and dime maybe as much, if not more, than whatever their base package turns out to be.

"These offenses are in nickel a lot," Browns coach Hue Jackson said. "Defenses have to play with five DBs in the game quite a bit and we have a lot of different packages that we play, so we could and we could not. It all depends on who we are playing and how we are playing."

Former LB Clay Matthews drove between Cleveland and his home in California. My brother-in-law swears it was in a Ford Pinto. I say it was a Mercury Comet. -- Dan G., Garfield Heights

Clay Matthews Sr. drove a Mercury Capri to Cleveland from California on his way for training camp. In a 1990 Los Angeles Times profile, Matthews was said to be still the owner of the car he used way back as a rookie in 1978. The odometer was stuck on 89,000 miles.

Who are the starting LBs now that Demario Davis is gone? I imagine Christian Kirksey and Jamie Collins Sr. are playing outside, but who is in the middle? As a second question, are Nate Orchard and Emmanuel Ogbah moving back to their college positions as 4-3 DEs or staying at OLB? -- David F., Shaker Heights

At Tuesday's OTA, veteran Tank Carder took the lion's share of snaps in the place Davis was working in the past. Carder has been with the Browns since 2012, longer than all but three players (Joe Haden, John Greco and Joe Thomas). He's largely earned his keep on special teams.

"We have other guys, obviously. There are other guys on the roster, but those are the first three guys that we stepped out there today," Jackson said Tuesday. "Tank has done a good job and we will keep going from there."

A player to watch in this spot is Dominique Alexander, the second-year linebacker out of Oklahoma who was one of Cleveland's special teams standouts in 2016. Undrafted rookie Kenneth Olugbode, who racked up 299 tackles over four seasons at Colorado, has also received some work at the position. As noted above, the Browns will be in plenty of positions where they won't be using three linebackers on the field.

As for Orchard and Ogbah, both players have been lined up as traditional defensive ends when the Browns line up in a 4-3.

There's been a lot of coverage about Browns starting RB Isaiah Crowell's role in Coach Jackson's offense. Can you talk about what expectations Coach Jackson has for RB Duke Johnson? Duke seemed to really excel as a receiver in the slot last season. Do you think we'll see more of Duke in that role this season? Thanks! GO BROWNS! -- Ed, Naples, Florida

Jackson talked at length last week about getting more from the Browns running game. After four games last season, the Browns ranked first in the NFL with 149.3 rushing yards per game. That number dropped off dramatically during the heart of the season before recovering a bit near the end. Cleveland finished 19th in the league with an average of 107 yards per game. Johnson provided a nice change of pace behind Isaiah Crowell, averaging 4.9 yards per carry while finishing third on the team in receiving with 53 catches for 514 yards. He's expected to play a similar role this season but with higher volume, as Jackson stressed the Browns are better built to run the ball on a consistent basis.

"I am a coach that likes to run the ball," Jackson said. "We all recognize where we were in games last year, and trying to play from behind is hard, and understanding what our team was last year, feeling that you had to get off to a fast start to get ahead of a team because you knew how some things would unfold. I think Crowell is poised for a big year. He deserves it. He worked extremely hard a year ago, him and Duke both. Our running game needs to come to the forefront."

Any chance that Coach would consider moving Kevin Hogan to wide receiver to save his talent and groom him like Terrelle Pryor as a wide receiver/4th QB? -- Michael T., Winter Springs, Florida

I don't see that in Hogan's future.

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