Anthony Walker knew what his role would be within the Browns' linebackers room as soon as he inked a new deal with Cleveland at the beginning of the offseason.
Walker, a five-year veteran who made 321 tackles with the Indianapolis Colts the last three seasons, is primed to be a vocal leader and key contributor for a linebackers room full of young talent. Walker isn't the most experienced player of the group — that title belongs to Malcolm Smith, a 10-year veteran who re-signed with the Browns last season and carries valuable leadership skills, too — but he's proven he can handle the tallest tasks a linebacker can possess.
That's why Walker was in Berea this week and ready to begin acclimating with the rest of the defensive players in town for voluntary OTAs.
"I think that was the main thing for myself and a lot of the other guys is just to get here," he said Wednesday in a video call with local reporters. "First year in a new system, getting some new terminology and some new communication, which is huge as the MIKE linebacker. Getting that communication, getting that comfortability with the team and everybody, I think that is huge for my job description and a huge step in the right direction."
It's no surprise Walker is being used as the MIKE linebacker. The position will require Walker to line up in the middle of the box and help position the rest of the defense efficiently based on the offense's formation. Communication and a loud voice is a necessity.
So is strong chemistry and trust with teammates. Those are some of the traits that Walker exemplified best with the Colts, and head coach Kevin Stefanski has already seen why Walker was such a popular player in Indy.
"I would say (he's performed) as advertised," Stefanski said. "You're playing that MIKE linebacker position, you're directing traffic, you're getting everybody lined up and you are, in a lot of ways, the quarterback of the defense. To see him communicate and to see his leadership on display in these types of settings is very impressive. I think he's the type of guy who we think embodies the type of style of play and the type of person we want in that locker room."
Walker, however, is keeping things simple as he begins a new chapter in Cleveland. Comfort with the playbook and terminology needed to communicate with the defense will increase over time, but to Walker, a linebacker's responsibilities can always be summarized down to the same tasks.
"A linebacker's job description is never going to change, which is to run, tackle the guy with the ball and intercept the quarterback and sack the quarterback," he said. "That is never going to change. Things are a little bit different as far as communication or the coverage, but everything for the most part is still playing linebacker."
That mindset has helped Walker become one of the more reliable linebackers in the NFL. Players don't record 90 or more tackles for three straight seasons without earning the trust of coaches and players around them, and Walker has already begun to accomplish that over his first three months on the Browns.
Walker wants to be a role model and elevate the talents of the rest of the linebackers group, which includes second-round rookie Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, second-year player Jacob Phillips and third-year veterans Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson. Montrel Meander and Elijah Lee round out the room, too, and have previously carried roles on special teams.
For Walker, voluntary OTAs should help him build those bonds even more.
It's all part of the process of coming into training camp as sharp as possible, and Walker feels as though he's on that track.
"I've gotten a lot better from Day 1 to now with all the communication and everything like that, understanding the defense," he said. "Once all of the guys are here and we're going through defenses, gameplan, we will get everything figured out, but right now, it's my job to learn the fundamentals of the defense. That's what I'm trying to do now."