Steve Wilks will be evaluating more than 40 defensive players over the next month as the Browns begin the tedious process of molding their roster to the 53-player maximum required by the regular season.
Five of those defensive players are rookie draft selections looking to prove their worth among NFL veterans, which is no easy task after general manager John Dorsey turned the Browns into legitimate contenders in the AFC North.
From Wilks’ perspective, however, a few rookies have already caught his eye after seven days of training camp. Greedy Williams, Sione Takitaki, Sheldrick Redwine and Mack Wilson have each produced regardless of whether the reps are with the third team or first team.
Williams has received the most first team reps of the trio and has shown why the Browns wanted to trade up and select him in the second round. After he grabbed a few interceptions in the first two days of camp, Williams has been stout against speedy veteran receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry.
Wilks wanted to test Williams’ ability against the Browns’ top receivers to see how he may fare in a starting role. So far, the former LSU cornerback has passed with ease.
“I think he’s doing a great job,” Wilks said. “He’s learning, he’s growing. He needs to learn how to be consistent every day in how he practices, but I’m excited about what he’s doing and where he’s going.”
Check out photos from the seventh day of Browns Camp by team photographer Matt Starkey
Takitaki has garnered attention for his aggressive playing style. The former BYU linebacker has been one of the hardest hitting players thus far, and while it’ll be tough to crack a starting spot over veterans Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey, Takitaki has proven he’s not afraid to lower the shoulder against anyone.
Wilks would like to see Takitaki improve when he’s out in space. Takitaki has shined most when stopping the run, but Wilks has noticed Takitaki’s weaknesses in pass coverage. That’s a normal adjustment for a rookie linebacker, and Wilks hopes NFL experience will teach Takitaki when the aggressiveness can be toned down.
“He’s physical, and he’s still a rookie,” Wilks said. “He still makes mistakes that he has to make sure he’s correct, but I like his physicality. We’ve thrown a lot at these guys in seven practices, so when you look at what we’re doing, I think he’s swimming a little bit. But he’ll get there.”
Wilson has mostly played alongside Takitaki at the linebacker position with a much different skillset.
Wilks trusts the Browns safeties -- a group that includes the fourth-round selection Redwine, who has primarily worked with the second team -- when they play up to cover tight ends, but the NFL’s increasing reliance on speedy offensive players has brought a greater need for quick linebackers. That’s one of Wilson’s greatest strengths, and that’s why Wilks considers Wilson an asset in the Browns’ defensive schemes.
“I love his athleticism,” Wilks said. “When you look at him in space, he plays well and he can change direction. He fits that mold right there.”
All three rookies should see plenty of action after Browns starters depart preseason games, which begin on Aug. 8, and fans should be eager to watch what appears to be a promising future of the Browns defense.