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Browns 2021 position preview: Analyzing the linebackers

The position received two potential big pieces in Anthony Walker and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, which sets up a nice competition for starting jobs in 2021

The countdown 'til training camp is on.

In two weeks, the Browns will be back in Berea for five weeks of practices, meetings and preparations for the 2021 season — one that's filled with hype following several key additions to the defense and little changes to an offense that thrived in 2020.

We're examining each position on the roster as Day 1 of camp nears and continuing with a position that will have one of the most interesting competitions in training camp.

The Linebackers

Anthony Walker

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

Sione Takitaki

Malcolm Smith

Mack Wilson

Jacob Phillips

Tony Fields II

Montrel Meander

Elijah Lee

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What we know: Walker was one of the biggest free-agent signings the Browns made this season and should provide strong levels of reliability and leadership as a middle linebacker, where he could be an every-down player. After him, the room has an influx of youth and a heavy load of competition for starting jobs. Wilson and Takitaki are entering their third NFL season and will be given every opportunity to land those roles, but there are several young players behind them who will be in the mix, too. The Browns have high hopes for 2020 third-round pick Phillips, 2021 second-round pick Owusu-Koramoah and 2021 fifth-round pick Fields II, all of whom are 23 years old or younger and possess the speedy abilities the Browns covet at the position. Owusu-Koramoah will attract plenty of eyes in training camp as a prospect many draft analysts believed would be selected in the first round and could make an immediate push into a starting job. Smith, a 10-year veteran who re-signed with the Browns this offseason, will be the room's mentor and another player in the competition for snaps.

What we don't know: It's truly anyone's guess as to who will be at the top of the linebacker rotation next to Walker, who amassed 321 tackles over the last three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. Owusu-Koramoah's speed and coverage abilities might be strong enough to land him a key Week 1 role, but the Browns don't have to hurry him. They're high on the potential of Phillips, too, after he recorded 25 tackles last season, including a team-leading 10 tackles in the Week 17 playoff clincher against the Steelers. The competition between Owusu-Koramoah, Phillips, Takitaki, Wilson and Smith will be one of the top, must-watch battles of training camp.

The X-Factor: Owusu-Koramoah. His speed is exactly what the Browns need when it comes to stopping some of the speedy quarterbacks on schedule this year in Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray. The Browns traded up seven spots in the second round to grab him because they believe he can be a difference-maker as a rookie, and if Owusu-Koramoah can turn in a productive rookie season, the Browns' defensive box should be a strong one.

The biggest number: 62. That's how many tackles Owusu-Koramoah recorded last season at Notre Dame, which led the team and earned him First-Team All-American honors as well as the Dick Butkus Award, given to the best college linebacker in the nation. All of those accolades are reasons why the Browns believe they grabbed tremendous value by taking him in the second round. 

Says it all: "The best player will play and the best players that help us win will play. I think that is with any system and that is with any team. You want the competitive juices flowing. You want guys to want to be on the field and want to compete and earn a job to be on the field. We are all doing that right now. That is our job to go out and make it hard on the coaches to choose. The best 11 are going to play."

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

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