The Browns lost more than a starting outside linebacker in D’Qwell Jackson, they lost their defensive leader. Yesterday, the Cleveland Browns released the veteran outside linebacker. Jackson led the Browns in tackles last year with 75 solo and 66 assisted tackles. Jackson also had one fumble recovery and one interception last year. He helped turn the defense around from being one of the weakest, to being one of the top 10 defenses in the league this year. The big question will be who will step up on this young defense to lead these Browns?
The Cleveland Browns’ defense isn’t full of veterans, so a guy like Jackson was needed to lead the defense. With his absence, the defense drops from an average of 3.9 years experience to 3.5 years. If a rookie takes over his position, then it would drop to 3.2 years. With such a young team including, the Browns need to have one or more players step up. The question is who is ready to do that on such a young team?
The first obvious choice would be Joe Haden. Haden has been one of the best corners in the NFL the past two seasons, and can only get better. The two time Pro Bowler has been in the league now for 4 years and all of them have been in Cleveland. A first round draft pick (7th overall) in the 2010 Draft, Haden has shut down top receivers such as AJ Green and Calvin Johnson. Last season, Haden recorded 54 total tackles (43 solo, 11 assisted) and 4 interceptions including one for a touchdown. Haden is only beaten out by teammates Paul Kruger (5 years, 1 with Browns) and Ahtyba Rubin (6 years) for years in the league.
The next choice would be TJ Ward. Ward was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time this year. Ward was drafted the same year as Haden, and the two have worked hard to make their backfield one of the best. Ward recorded 112 (75 solo and 37) tackles. 5 interceptions (two for touchdowns), and one fumble recovery. Ward made a huge impact with his play this year and the Browns are looking to resign him, or use the franchise tag to keep him for another year.
The last player who could step up and play that leadership role could be Paul Kruger. Although he has only been with the Browns for one season, Kruger is a big time name that the younger players could look up to. Kruger already has a Super Bowl ring and was brought in to help with the pass rushing. Kruger has been in the league for 5 years and has played under one of the all time defensive leaders in Ray Lewis. If Kruger steps up to the plate, the younger players could see something to strive for.
Until one of these players emerges as a clear leader, the Browns will have to look upon the coaches and players with experience like Rubin, Kruger, Ward and Haden. The defense will only become stronger this year and the Browns will look to bulk it up with one of their many different draft picks in this year’s draft.