Summer vacation keeps on chugging along for the Browns, but we're spending the weeks ahead of training camp preparing for endless sun rays and seas of brown and orange-clad fans as far as the eye can see through our much-needed sunglasses. Can you feel us wishing good weather into existence in Berea? Us neither (don't jinx it).
While we wait for the players to return and the ball boys to roll out the pigskins, we're previewing training camp by looking at each position. Today's group: linebackers.
Dedrick Young II
What we know: At the top of this group are two familiar faces who have played many downs of football for the Browns: Kirksey and Schobert. The latter was a ray of sunshine in a dark time for the Browns, tying for the NFL lead in tackles (144) and making the Pro Bowl at the conclusion of the team's 0-16 campaign. The former is as much an effective face of the franchise as he is a reliable linebacker, serving as a positive force in his first few years with the team despite the franchise's struggles. When Kirksey was lost last season to injury, his absence showed as the defense struggled against the run in the second half of the campaign. He and Schobert return in 2019 with the company of new faces, about whom we don't know too much. That's what the next section is for, though, and the players who are returning bring an assortment of potential for significant contribution. Avery is one, shining in pass-rush scenarios as a rookie and rising as a possible replacement for the departed Jamie Collins. "He plays with his hair on fire," run game coordinator/linebackers coach Al Holcomb said of Avery. "He plays fast, his effort is relentless, he's physical at the point of attack. Those are the things, the intrinsic things that he brings to the table, that he brings to this defense, just his overall ability and his willingness and pursuit to get to the football. And he's a pretty good pass rusher as well." Armstrong brings a veteran presence and tremendous athleticism that could fill depth gaps in the second level of the defense, especially as the season moves into its most difficult stretches. Taylor is a versatile linebacker and an ideal fit for Steve Wilks' defense, which values the ability to play multiple positions.
What we don't know: There are five rookies in this group, meaning there are a lot of unknowns. The highest selection of the five is Takitaki, a third-round pick out of BYU who was the apple of assistant GM Eliot Wolf's eye. We'll see how well he can perform once the pads come on, which is also true of Wilson, an athletic linebacker whom the Browns selected in the fifth round out of Alabama. After that, we move into an undrafted free agent group of Harvey, Stubbs and Young. It's going to be tough to crack the final 53 for this group, as the Browns kept just six linebackers last season and likely only have space for two or three rookies at most.
Check out photos of the Browns linebackers
X-Factor: Rookies. They might not make it entirely evident, but this front office has at least some expectation for Takitaki to play a role in this defense. Wilson fulfilling the draft projections that had him going much higher than the fifth would be a boon. If both can carve out roles and/or prove themselves capable of playing quality downs, this defense will become much better. Going into the offseason, linebacker was the biggest question mark. It can be answered with their play, combined with what you'll get out of the veteran group.
The biggest number: 104. Despite the criticism, Collins still led the Browns in tackles last season with 104 (and tackles for loss with 13). His presence off the edge, while not always consistent, will be one that needs replacing. They'll have to find the best prospect(s) to attempt to make up that number, which isn't always indicative of team success but usually is of individual progress. Add in his 4.0 sacks and seven QB hits and there are some decent-sized shoes for this group to find a way to fill as it figures out who will be on the final roster.
Says it all: "We're gonna be aggressive. We're gonna try to create negative plays on first and second down. (Wilks is) an intense individual. The attention to detail will be there within the system. Fundamentals and technique, the same thing that we're preaching here in May and June, we're gonna still be preaching in December and January. The philosophy doesn't change. The fundamentals and technique will be the core values that we believe in and preach, running to the ball, being physical and tackling." - Holcomb
How many were kept on the initial 53-man roster last year?: 6