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Off-Season Position Analysis

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Browns 2020 position preview: Analyzing the linebackers

The virtual work is complete and training camp will be here sooner than we know it.

From now until then, we're going to devote some time to the different position groups that dot the Browns' roster. There's been plenty of change since the Browns last took the field, and we're examining all of it with an eye toward the 2020 season.

We're continuing with a position that will have plenty of eyes upon it as it goes through a number of promising, youthful options.

The Linebackers

What we know: This is the youngest group on the team with the least amount of collective experience. That's been the dominant storyline on the defensive side of the ball throughout the offseason, and the Browns aren't hiding from it. Wilson, a fifth-round pick in 2019, played nearly every snap in 14 games last season, gaining some unexpected, real experience after Christian Kirksey was lost for the year with a chest injury. Goodson, who spent last year with the Packers and his first three with the Giants, has by far the most experience of anyone in the room and is a top contender to fill the MIKE spot vacated by Joe Schobert, who signed with the Jaguars. Takitaki was taken two rounds earlier than Wilson in last year's draft but played sparingly on defense while filling a major role on special teams. The rest of the room, highlighted by third-round rookie Phillips, presents a relatively blank slate for linebackers coach Jason Tarver, who vowed last week it would be a wide-open competition at all three spots when training camp commences in late July.

What we don't know: Because Tarver has said there would be open competition at all of the spots in the linebacking corps, it's a fool's errand to pencil in anyone as a starter just yet. Tarver wouldn't even commit to the kind of role Goodson would have, saying the veteran would earn what he gets just like everyone else. There are frontrunners, certainly, but there's an opportunity out there for anyone in the group to emerge in the weeks leading up to the season. There's also the unknown about how the Browns will use their linebackers within new defensive coordinator Joe Woods' scheme. Last year, Cleveland mostly played with just two linebackers on the field. Will it be the same in 2020? Or will the Browns deploy more of a traditional 4-3 look? These kinds of questions can be applied to the rest of the defense, but they're especially pertinent to a position group that currently has no locked-in starters.

X-Factor: Takitaki - The former third-rounder out of BYU had a tough time getting on the field as a rookie, but that shouldn't be viewed as a reason for concern. First, Takitaki suffered a hamstring injury early in training camp that sidelined him during a crucial point in any rookie's chances of making an early impact. Second, Takitaki was backing up Schobert, who rarely left the field while he served as a starter over the past three seasons. That's why Takitaki will have as good of a chance as any to land a starting role or key spot in the rotation. He made the most of his snaps during the second half of the season and impressed on special teams. Now, he's ready for more. "I feel more prepared," Takitaki said in a recent interview. "Not that I wasn't prepared last year, but I can go into this year with X's and O's and little things that I need to work on. I feel like this year, I can definitely tune into those things."

The biggest number: 17 - That's how many tackles Phillips missed during his final two years at LSU, according to Pro Football Focus. That's a very small number that shows just how reliable the third-rounder was when a ball-carrier came within his grasp. Phillips was the leading tackler for the national champions, and the Browns loved that about him.

Says it all: "We have not hit the field yet. Guys have not earned jobs. They have not earned playing time. We think that we have a talented core. We brought in other talented players, but guys will really have to earn their stripes … It is a very young group. You have two players who are entering their second year and another that we are adding who is a rookie, but that is exciting because it is a room of opportunity. Obviously, we lost Joe this offseason who was the elder statesman and very experienced – the same thing with Christian. It gives young players an opportunity to step up and establish their own roles within the system." — EVP of Football Operations and GM Andrew Berry

How many were kept on the initial 53-man roster last year?: 6

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