We're going one step backward to take one step forward in our breakdown of each Cleveland Browns position group.
After analyzing the defensive line Monday, we're taking a look at how the Browns' linebackers fared in 2015. Inside and outside backers are included in this analysis.
Away we go…
The Raw Data
Karlos Dansby - 16 games, 108 tackles, 3 INTs, 2 TDs, 2 forced fumbles
Christian Kirksey - 16 games, 53 tackles, 3.5 sacks, forced fumble, fumble recovery
Craig Robertson - 12 games, 50 tackles, INT, forced fumble, fumble recovery
Armonty Bryant - 14 games, 40 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, fumble recovery
Nate Orchard - 15 games, 36 tackles, 3 sacks, INT, forced fumble
Paul Kruger - 16 games, 27 tackles, 2.5 sacks
Barkevious Mingo - 16 games, 18 tackles, INT
Tank Carder - 16 games, 6 tackles
Cam Johnson - 1 games, 3 tackles
Scott Solomon - 2 games, 1 tackle
Others on the roster
Forced fumbles - 6 - T-18th
Opponents 3rd-down conversion rate - 39.9 percent - 20th
Sacks - 29 - 28th
Scoring defense - 27 points per game - 29th
*(According to Spotrac.com, the following players contracts will expire at the start of the new league year in March) *
Who's in charge now?
Inside linebackers coach - Johnny Holland (22 years experience, 18 in NFL)
Outside linebackers coach - Ryan Slowik (13 years experience, 12 in NFL)
Quote to note
"Johnny Holland is a seasoned veteran coach. He played in this league and has had success as a player and a coach. He is a very passionate, demanding teacher. I know without any question he is going to get the best out of our linebackers … Ryan Slowik is an up and coming bright young coach. I think he has tremendous upside as a young coach in this profession. He has been with the Jets, Cardinals and Broncos. I think the sky is the limit for him." -- Hue Jackson
This may develop as a theme in our defensive evaluations, but Cleveland's 24-10 triumph over the 49ers was a big day for all of the Browns' linebackers. This group accounted for five of the season-high nine sacks with two coming from Orchard, who had yet to accumulate any by that point of the season. Even when Cleveland didn't sack San Francisco quarterback Blaine Gabbert, it brought relentless pressure and forced him into some questionable throws. The inside linebackers played a key role in limiting running back Shaun Draughn to 43 rushing yards and preventing him from advancing to the next level in Cleveland's defense.
With the Raiders operating primarily out of the shotgun and Derek Carr making most of his throws in quick fashion, Cleveland's linebackers struggled to slow down Oakland when it passed and threw in a 27-20 loss in September. The Raiders accumulated 469 yards of offense, with 314 coming through the air and 155 on the ground. The Browns didn't put much pressure on Carr throughout the game and came away with zero sacks. Running back Latavius Murray started slow but finished strong, picking up his yards in chunks throughout the second half as Cleveland's offense unsuccessfully tried to come back from an early deficit.
Surprises can be good or bad, and this was a bad one that affected Cleveland's outside linebackers throughout the entire 2015 season. Solomon showed as much promise as any player on the Browns throughout offseason workouts and training camp, earning a starting spot opposite of Kruger to begin the year. One series into the season, Solomon went down with an ankle injury that kept him off the field until Week 5. Against Baltimore, Solomon returned and made an impact but seriously injured his knee in the process. He played through the pain on that day but was lost for the season when it was clear surgery was required.
Outlook for 2016
As mentioned above, the loss of Solomon was significant for the Browns, who struggled to find their groove at outside linebacker throughout most of the season. Orchard, as a rookie, developed into one of Cleveland's best OLBs against the run and showed why the Browns drafted him in the later part of the season when he collected three sacks. Bryant showed big potential during his first season at outside linebacker but ended the season with back-to-back inactives after an off-the-field incident. Kruger saw his sack production dip primarily as a result of being used in different spots than the previous season, another trickle-down effect of the Solomon injury. The Browns' trio of inside linebackers was solid, but is certainly lumped into the large number of reasons why the team struggled against the run for a second consecutive season. Dansby, at 34, had one of the most productive seasons of his career and is now one interception away from joining the illustrious 40 sack-20 interception club. Three of the 10 contributors at linebacker have contract situations to resolve next month while the upcoming draft class is led by Ohio State's Joey Bosa, who is projected as an outside linebacker in a 3-4, and Alabama's Reggie Ragland, a true middle linebacker who could be off the board within the first 15 picks.