Outside of the secondary, there was no more reliable unit on the Browns' 2014 defense than the inside linebackers.
Some members of the Dawg Pound feared about this position when D'Qwell Jackson was released last offseason. But Karlos Dansby's veteran credence infiltrated the unit and gave confidence to other players. When Dansby was injured in November against the Texans, Craig Robertson and Christian Kirksey saw their level of play soar to new heights.
What happened at OTAs: Dansby focused on his alignment, especially in the run game. Robertson continued to be the defense's Energizer bunny, adding much needed laughter and intensity to the often mundane spring practices. Kirksey received growing admiration from the coaching staff about his improved instinctual awareness in play recognition. Carder was injured for most of training camp a year ago, which left the coaches a little puzzled as to where he fit. Now, they like him as a situational blitzer. Even though he's a seventh-round pick, the Browns see potential in Pullard as a run-thumper and on special teams.
Under the radar: It's Kirksey. The Browns' rookie class had a major impact last season, but it's usually Joel Bitonio, Isaiah Crowell and Taylor Gabriel who garner the attention. Drafted in the third round out of Iowa, Kirksey was expected to see some snaps, but not to wrap up 81 tackles. With Kirksey built in the same lean mold as Dansby (6-foot-2, 235 pounds), there's growing murmurs from older teammates he can take a big leap in 2015.
Variables to consider: How much time will Robertson and Kirksey split? According to Pro Football Focus, Robertson saw 674 snaps while Kirksey saw 693. Another thing to consider is the Browns' heavy use of the nickel package, where a linebacker is subbed out for a cornerback – typically K'Waun Williams.
Quote to note: "Karlos, he still remains extremely flexible. He takes unbelievable care of his body. He still practices like a rookie. He goes through all the individual drills. He hits the sled every day. I tell all the other players, 'If you want to play 11 years in the league model yourself after this guy.' I see Karlos having a very, very good year for us. I don't see any step-back from him at all." – inside linebackers coach Chuck Driesbach
How many were kept at the end of the preseason last year?: 4