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Training Camp Story of the Day

Browns continue shuffle of linebackers in 'top to bottom' competition

Jason Tarver's note sheet for training camp is full of scribbles, re-written names and more scribbles.

That's because Tarver, who's in his first season as linebackers coach of the Browns, is attempting to shuffle first-team reps to nearly all of the linebackers on the roster. The room is full of promising young players, and Tarver is doing his best to give them all opportunities against the Browns' top talent.

That's not a bad thing, either. Just two players — B.J. Goodson and Tae Davis — have more than two full seasons in the NFL. With no preseason games, Tarver is doing his best to evaluate options within the confines of training camp practices, and with such a young group, his solution is to have a rotation at all positions.

Inside linebacker, outside linebacker — the role doesn't matter.

But the process looks more like an always-changing jigsaw puzzle than a normal depth chart.

"It's a competition, top to bottom, so we have been rolling our group," Tarver said Thursday in a video call with local reporters. "We have moved different players to different positions and see how they speak to each other and how well they can function because it is our job to get the defense lined up and be between the D-line and the DBs."

Check out photos from the sixth day of Browns Camp

Tarver had a late start at on-field evaluations after the Browns' offseason plans were changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His group arguably carried the most competition of all Browns positions this season, and with so many young players in the mix for potential starting roles, Tarver needed his guys to spend as much time on the field as possible.

So he's been plugging players in and out of first-team, second-team and third-reps to see which combinations work best. The Browns are five days into training camp, and Tarver has already seen encouraging traits from each player. He highlighted those traits Thursday:

Goodson: "He's done a great job being a pro in the room, running the show, running and hitting in line and really getting in front of the huddle and being confident."

Davis: "He's done a nice job getting stronger in the offseason, shedding blocks well, and he's playing all three positions."

Sione Takitaki: "He's a ball of energy and he loves contact. He has gotten better and better and better at his space movement."

Jacob Phillips: "He's fast, and like any rookie, sometimes he is fast the wrong way and sometimes it is fast the right way. But what is great about Jacob is he is a one-time correction young man. You tell him, he writes it down, he analyzes it and learns from his mistakes.

Willie Harvey: "He's working his way back off an injury, is fast, loves contact and has done some good things."

Montrel Meander: "He is another fast guy, fast, he loves contact and is learning the linebacker position, but he is learning how to shed blocks and improving."

Solomon Ajayi: "He's very smart. If you're ever going to be a rookie free agent in a year without an offseason, you have to be wired like Solomon. He makes very few mistakes and is tough."

The linebackers group has seen even more shuffling since Mack Wilson, who played primarily as the weak side linebacker to begin camp, went down with a knee injury in Tuesday's practice. His return status is unknown, but it'll open opportunities for Tarver to rotate even more players in different positions.

Goodson, the oldest player in the room at 27, has been the most constant player on the first team so far. He's relayed play calls to the rest of the defense through six days of camp and seems to be emerging as a leader for not only the linebackers, but the entire defense.

After Goodson, the roles are still coming to fruition. Takitaki, Phillips and Davis appear to be showing the most flash in first-team opportunities, but nearly all linebackers have been mixed and matched as Tarver looks to see what combinations click.

"We are going to compete, and we are going to let the best man win," he said. "Then as coaches, we are going to see what they can do, which we are starting to learn – I will not share all that right now – and then we will put them in a position to be successful."

The Browns have plenty of practices left in training camp to chisel the depth chart into its Week 1 shape. By the end of the process, Tarver hopes the roles in his position group will be much more defined, and despite the myriad of youth, he believes his guys will be ready to be a force on Sundays.

"In our room, they have put themselves physically in a position to have a chance by having a great offseason," Tarver said. "We're going one day at a time, and we're letting them earn it."

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