Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a 12-part series in which Browns beat writer Nate Ulrich analyzes players who will vie for starting jobs or other important roles during training camp, which opens to the public July 25 in Berea.
BATTLES OF BEREA: OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS
Players to watch: Quentin Groves (6-foot-3, 265 pounds, sixth year); Paul Kruger (6-4, 270, fifth year); Barkevious Mingo (6-4, 237, rookie); and Jabaal Sheard (6-2, 255, third year).
2012 stats: Groves (with Arizona Cardinals — 16 games played, including seven starts, 46 tackles, four sacks, one forced fumble); Kruger (with Baltimore Ravens, including postseason — 19 games played, including eight starts, 56 tackles, 13½ sacks, seven passes defensed and two forced fumbles); Mingo (with Louisiana State — 13 games played, including 10 starts, 38 tackles, 4½ sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries); Sheard (started all 16 games, 36 tackles, seven sacks, four passes defensed, one forced fumble).
Analysis: All eyes will be on Mingo because he was the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, but that doesn’t mean he’ll start as a rookie. Kruger and Sheard will enter camp atop the depth chart at left and right outside linebacker, respectively, and they’re clear favorites to secure those jobs. Throughout organized team activities and minicamps, Mingo served primarily as Sheard’s backup, and Groves played mostly behind Kruger. Mingo hopes to push for a starting spot, though it seems more likely he and Groves will be used as rotational players this year. Kruger, the team’s most expensive free-agent acquisition of 2013, is a virtual lock to start, and the coaching staff has been pleasantly surprised thus far with Sheard’s transition from playing defensive end in a 4-3 scheme to outside linebacker in new defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s 3-4, multi-front system. Mingo played defensive end in college, so he could benefit from receiving time to develop into an every-down outside linebacker. Aldon Smith, the seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft who’s long and lean like Mingo, didn’t start a single game for the San Francisco 49ers as a rookie, but he still compiled 14 sacks. The following season, he started every game and racked up 19½ sacks. The Browns obviously wouldn’t complain if Mingo produces at a similar rate.
Coming Monday: Inside linebackers