After allowing Joe Schobert to leave in free agency and letting go of Christian Kirksey (who recently said that he is excited about the prospect of finally being part of a winning team), the Cleveland Browns don’t have much in the way of veterans or proven commodities at the inside linebacker position, which is an important and arguably increasingly underrated position.
According to the team’s new linebackers coach, Jason Tarver, the plan is to have an open competition for those jobs. “It’s an open competition. All of our guys have a chance”, he told reporters, via Scott Petrak. “That’s what’s exciting”.
The only linebackers of note returning from last season are a pair of 2019 draft picks, including Mack Wilson, who did end up starting 14 games and playing close to 1000 snaps. During the season, he recorded 82 tackles with one sack, a forced fumble, an interception, and seven passes defensed. Sione Takitaki is the other rookie, who was taken before Wilson in the draft.
To that group, the Browns added veteran journeyman B.J. Goodson on a one-year deal, and used a third-round draft pick on Jacob Phillips. So they have three players with a year of experience or less and a player who is new to the team and the system, competing for two starting jobs.
Tarver said that Wilson improved with every rep that he played last season. “He likes contact. He got better and better and better at taking people on as the season went on”, he added. “He does chase the ball. He plays with energy and other guys rally around him. He also has good cover skills, and he is very ball aware”.
Wilson was actually a name circulating early on in the 2019 pre-draft process as a potential first-round candidate, but he ended up falling so far that he was not drafted until the fifth round. His rookie year suggests that that slide was a mistake on all 32-teams’ part, but now it’s up to him to prove it beyond just one season.
Goodson is a former fourth-round pick of the New York Giants. He spent his first three seasons there, but played last season with the Green Bay Packers. He has started 29 games in his career, including 22 over the last two seasons, with 160 career tackles to his name to go along with two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and half a sack.