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Browns Linebacker Situation (with Veikune) Analyzed


Dan in Florida

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Outside the Perimeter: Veikune is Vital

 

By Mark Leonard

OBR Columnist

Posted May 7, 2009

 

20080917_sports_veikune3b.jpg

 

Mark Leonard offers some much-needed critical thinking to the Browns situation at linebacker in this week's installment, outlining exactly how important David Veikune is to the 2009 Browns, and much more...

 

To the best of my knowledge Veikune is not Tongan for "savior." But the young man from Hawaii, the club's third second-round draft selection, is most assuredly a key addition to the 2009 Cleveland Browns and possibly its most critical individual defensive performer.

 

Think about all of that, keeping in mind he was a complete unknown to most NE Ohioans until ten days ago.

 

David Veikune played DE collegiately for the Rainbow Warriors, was thought to have been drafted (52nd overall) as an edge-rushing OLB but suddenly figures prominently as a starting strongside ILB candidate, arguably the most essential of the run-stopping assignments in the typical 3-4 NFL defense. It had been the slot occupied for most of the past seven years by the steady but unspectacular Andra Davis, who now draws paychecks from the Denver Broncos.

 

Veikune has drawn praise from new head coach Eric Mangini for his capacity to quickly grasp defensive schemes, as well as for his non-stop motor, intensity, hustle, scrap and football instincts, among other qualities. Solidly-built at 6-2 257 and athletic enough to drop comfortably into coverage, the Alaskan-born Veikune was not only the first defender drafted by the new regime of Mangini and GM George Kokinis, but appears to be the only draftee with much chance of starting on that side of the ball. Given how chronically weak has been the New Browns' D, especially against the run, it would therefore seem reasonable to acknowledge David Veikune just may be carrying considerable hopes upon his unproven rookie shoulders.

 

(To interrupt this story briefly, it may interest to know today's Canton Repository displayed an unofficial poll asking fans to identify a positional unit most in need of further fortification. No telling how many fans had voted at the time the piece was experienced, but every unit registered some percentage of fan concern---except for LB, which carried an incomprehensible zero votes.)

 

It has been commonly expressed that former NYJ ILB Eric Barton figures to be an upgrade over Davis as the presumptive regular aligning inside next to D'Qwell Jackson, Cleveland's leading '08 tackler. But last week's installment detailed how ill-fitting Barton was on the strongside for Mangini in New York, a condition corrected once Michigan's David Harris arrived from Michigan as an '07 second-rounder. What should also be recognized about Barton vs. Davis is Andra was signed by the Broncos on Day Two of free agency this spring, while Barton remained unemployed for nearly a month longer.

 

While that may not constitute conclusive evidence that Barton does not, in fact, represent an improvement over Davis, it does suggest Denver's new Def-Coor Mike Nolan preferred Davis in the 3-4 he was hired to install for first-year head coach Josh McDaniels.

 

Minimally, those two paragraphs should invite fans and prognosticators to lay off talk of Barton being a certain or certifiable upgrade.

 

Having said all that, the time has arrived to ponder: "If Veikune is not Cleveland's starting SILB---or at least its foremost hope at the position---who will be?"

 

Beau Bell, who was former GM Phil Savage's identified vision for the role, not only had his inaugural NFL campaign marred by a persistent knee condition warranting surgery, but he is reportedly afflicted with a learning disability, precluding his meeting Mangini's professed preferences. At the very least, it would seem to follow Bell will less quickly process and master Mangini's instructions and specifications.

 

Leon Williams returns for season four, but is still trying to distinguish himself from marginality, having once again failed to unseat Davis himself last summer. While it had been true former coach Romeo Crennel was slow to trust his kids and gave every start of last season's 4-12 campaign to the free-agent-to-be Davis, it is also true Williams had been given countless opportunities to claim the job.

 

Williams might, indeed, get himself coached-up and/or fully manifested in the systems designed by Mangini and new DC Rob Ryan, but it is more likely he'll continue to be as close to becoming released as realized.

 

Meanwhile, fourth-rounder Kaluka Maiava should be expected to complete the six-man ILB assemblage. But he's likeliest to function situationally, at least at first, and is moreso a weakside challenger, thereby reducing the battle at SILB to the demonstratively-limited Barton and the newcomer Veikune, only one of whom has youth and upside in his favor.

 

This is the logic that argues for Veikune being the paramount prospect of defensive improvement for Cleveland's Browns in 2009.

 

Alarmingly, if fan forums and post-draft feedback can be at all indicative of regional sentiment, franchise followers and commentators seem to be fairly oblivious to the dearth of proven talent among the Browns' LBs. Not only has most analysis focused upon WR, it seems not to occur to many how genuinely unsettled the club is concerning the unit most integral to success in the chosen scheme. Leave the concept of impactful difference-makers aside and challenge yourself to recite the projected starters, bearing in mind simply knowing a player's name does not necessarily qualify him as a viability.

 

Barton, for example, has already been discussed and diminished in Davis' former role, but strongside outside backer Willie McGinest's slot is no better satisfied. Another former Jet, David Bowens, has seemingly been designated for the duties, but the ten-year vet has started but 22 of his 132 NFL contests, 15 of those way back in 2004. He's started but seven since, though five came last year under Mangini in NY---that handful his second-most for starts in his extended career. In brief, think "stopgap" at best when contemplating either Barton or Bowens.

 

The still-raw Alex Hall returns, of course, perhaps having added the much-needed ballast, strength and football awarenesses necessary before he can be responsibly envisioned in a fulltime shot. There is also Titus Brown, possibly exemplifying the inverse of the earlier-stated misconception---the name not known who just might be a real player.

 

David Holloway, who finished on last season's practice squad once Brown had been elevated to the varsity, also returns, as does Kamerion Wimbley, the weakside OLB and former number-one pick whose emergence may be Job One for Ryan and his assistants this summer.

 

In summary, this is not a unit of personnel fans should be taking for granted, particularly not in a division which also includes both Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Some discovery among the undrafted free agents---possibly Jackson State's Marcus Benard or Houston's Phillip Hunt---may play his way into the mix; but it appears more likely Mangini, Kokinis and Ryan have set themselves up oddly going into their first go-round together.

 

This is more of the logic that argues for Veikune being the most essential of additions, quite a remarkable reality for someone few knew existed less than a fortnight ago.

 

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Davis was less then good frankly i could out play him..Veikune on the otherhand will be an nfl favorite in a short period of time...i ussually will not go say such things of an nfl rook but ive seen a lot of footage on this kid from a HU fan that has said for 2 years this kid will own the nfl as an ilb/olb...and i can say he will stop the run and effect the pass immediately and only get better..this guy is really strong with solid instincts and a non stop motor and work ethic i think im higher on him then mangini...hehehehe

 

In 2 years everyone will know his name...;)

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It's just another indication, more and more, than this year's Browns draft was very, very clever.

 

The picks are high motor, intelligent guys who love football, and they can play.

 

I love it.

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Davis was less then good frankly i could out play him..Veikune on the otherhand will be an nfl favorite in a short period of time...i ussually will not go say such things of an nfl rook but ive seen a lot of footage on this kid from a HU fan that has said for 2 years this kid will own the nfl as an ilb/olb...and i can say he will stop the run and effect the pass immediately and only get better..this guy is really strong with solid instincts and a non stop motor and work ethic i think im higher on him then mangini...hehehehe

 

In 2 years everyone will know his name...;)

 

I share your same sentiments. When the Browns drafted him my nephew (Bengals fan) laughed and said WHO? I said that is someone I was hoping the browns would get, so I was psyched immediately

 

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Guest Aloysius

I thought it was interesting that the media never got ahold of Barton's contract details. Usually, that happens when an agent isn't all too proud of the deal his client signed. And that makes sense here, given that we seemed to be the only team pursuing Barton.

 

Barton's play in the second Buffalo game was just terrible, so much so that it could have scared off a lot of potential suitors. He was a lot better earlier in the year, which makes me think that he's better suited working in a rotation or as a third ILB. He'll get worn down if we rely on him to fill the SILB spot, so having Bowens or Veikune split time there with him makes a lot of sense.

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I thought it was interesting that the media never got ahold of Barton's contract details. Usually, that happens when an agent isn't all too proud of the deal his client signed. And that makes sense here, given that we seemed to be the only team pursuing Barton.

 

Barton's play in the second Buffalo game was just terrible, so much so that it could have scared off a lot of potential suitors. He was a lot better earlier in the year, which makes me think that he's better suited working in a rotation or as a third ILB. He'll get worn down if we rely on him to fill the SILB spot, so having Bowens or Veikune split time there with him makes a lot of sense.

 

I would love to know what Mangini's feelings are concerning both outside LB spots. They really didn't address it in the off season. There's not much depth there and I know it's the reason most think Veikune is destined for an OLB spot.

 

Does the lack of activity mean he's happy with Wimbley and Hall? Will Maiava be on the two deep at OLB?

Maybe he thinks Benard and Foster could make this team in reserve roles? Are we sure Bowens isn't destined for the Outside?

I'd sure feel a lot better if something was worked out that would bring Kiwanuka here.

I'd love to know what the FO and staff is thinking.

 

But as far as the inside it seems this team is loaded. Jackson, Barton, Bell, Williams, Bowens, Hunt, Ruud,

 

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Agreed, Cal. They've really locked in on a "type," like the Pats always did. Smart, high-character winners... who can also play. We'll see how quickly that permeates the team. Seems like the right guys for Quinn to lead, too.

 

You know, just maybe Braylon -- by all accounts a very likable guy involved with the community -- relocates that better version of himself now that Winslow is out and all these "character guys" are in.

Hell just froze over!

 

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I had to block the NRA thing with my left hand, though (!). Shep

******************************************************

Okay, I fixed it.

 

It's a pic of my favorite player. Don't know if anybody will figure it out...

 

hint: my guess is that Steve might...

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Sorry, had to make that one after all the clashing you and Shep did Cal.

You two went on longer than Shep and I did and I'm a "Start from the trenches and work your way out guy" too.

I just find it humorous to see you two agree on anything outside of your love for the Browns.

 

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Well, Tob - that was a good one...

 

I'm still wating on seeing who may figure out my new avatar.

 

I already even gave a great hint. @@

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