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Browns Jason Tarver aims to teach and showcase the best of linebacker group at 2024 NFL Combine

Tarver is heading into his fifth season with the Browns as linebackers coach

Tarver Combine feature 3.1

INDIANAPOLIS — As the linebacker group took the field in Lucas Oil Stadium at the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine, the Browns had a familiar face running the drills for the prospects in linebackers coach Jason Tarver.

And while he focused on running the drills for the prospects, it was also an opportunity for Tarver to see each and every prospect up close.

"It's really the one time you have them all together, so you can really learn about the prospects, who they are and how they compete," Tarver said. "And you can at least say hi to everybody. Sometimes I'll say in a meeting before, like, 'Hey, remember, I'm going to ask you this on the field when I see you,' to see how they recall things, but also to make connections. Because you don't know in the future, they're going to become free agents at some point in time, and be like, 'Hey, Coach, I remember you from the drills, that was awesome.' And those little links can sometimes really help you."

When Tarver is on the field with the prospects, the main point they focus on with the players is to not to guess or try and memorize the drills. They want the players to allow themselves to react to the drills and perform the movements required of a linebacker.

Through the drills that they ran, Tarver said the goal is to show how they move sideways and keep their feet apart in balanced positions. With the job of the linebacker to find where the ball is while backed off the line or diagnose a play and move quickly from different angles to the ball, that's what they want to help show in the drills.

"So, a lot of the change-of-direction drills are that – we're shuffling sideways, then we're going to run somewhere and then we're going to change direction again," Tarver said. "And then we're going to finish with a catch, or a scoop of a fumble or a defeat of a block. They're all movements simulated for what a player has to do to be a successful player at that position."

The group that ran the sequence of drills with Tarver on Thursday included some of Tarver's former colleagues from his time at the 49ers. Leading up to the Combine they spent time planning which drills they should run to show the players' skillsets, as well as see the entire group carry out the same movements. They would text back and forth about ideas they had and formulated a plan.

Tarver said that the drill he ran on Thursday on the field is a newer drill that is slightly modified from past years in order to show a skill that coaches and general managers across the league wanted to see more of in action.

"We build them so that everybody gets to see the movements that they want to see at each position for each player," Tarver said. "So, it doesn't change often, but it's neat that we can talk about it. And, hey, maybe we'll finish this drill just slightly different so the player can run longer, so we can see full speed. So that would be like an example."

Tarver has been to 23 NFL Scouting Combines over the course of his coaching career. He's helped lead the drills at the combine at different points in his career, both for offensive and defensive players. At one point in his career, he led crossover drills at the Combine.

"I really like being in it, rather than watching it," Tarver said. "That to me, is a lot of fun. And maybe I can help somebody by being down there. If somebody has a question, maybe I helped them become a better player, even in the little time we're together on the field. […] You never know when you're going to meet again in business, you really don't. You don't know when you're going to coach somebody again. You don't know when one of these guys – and maybe I can say one thing to help a guy have a longer career. And that's really cool. That's why we do it."

When Tarver first broke into the NFL, he started on the offensive side of the ball. He served as the offensive quality control coach with the 49ers from 2001-03 before he was promoted to the assistant running backs coach for the 2004 season.

Then, in 2005, Tarver moved to the defensive side of the ball when Mike Nolan became the head coach of the 49ers. Nolan wanted to keep Tarver as part of the staff but moved him to coach outside linebackers. Nolan was coming from his previous stop as the Ravens defensive coordinator with a strong defensive scheme, and Tarver has taken that learning experience with him throughout his career, knowing different schemes to help players succeed on the field. 

He served as the outside linebackers coach with the 49ers until 2010, when he went to Stanford University as the co-defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach. He moved back to the NFL one season later with the Oakland Raiders as their defensive coordinator from 2012-14 before another two seasons with the 49ers as their senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach. He was then with Vanderbilt University for two seasons beginning in 2018 as the outside linebackers and defensive coordinator before switching to inside linebackers coach and defensive coordinator in 2019.

Tarver then jumped back to the NFL when he joined the Browns in 2020 as the linebackers coach. In his first season with the Browns, Tarver helped the defense rank among the league leaders in takeaways, as well as rank ninth in the league in run defense. In 2021, Tarver also helped the Browns finish fifth in the NFL in total defense.

"It's been an honor to be here," Tarver said. "And our job as a coach in the NFL is, we got into this because it's to help people get better. And then to build something as a team to win. And really, that's all we're doing – we're helping people get better one player at a time. So, whoever comes into the room, as a coach, I just want to give them my best to help them play their best."

Check out behind the scenes photos of Browns coaches and executives watching combine workouts

In his time with the Browns, Tarver has helped develop players like Owusu-Koramoah, who was a second-round pick in 2021 and was named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team. He's coached players like Anthony Walker Jr., Tony Fields II and Sione Takitaki and seen them all progress throughout their time in the linebacker room.

In 2023, the Browns led the NFL in total defense, allowing an average of 270.2 yards per game, as well as passing defense, allowing an average of 164.7 yards per game. Cleveland also led the league in third down percentage. LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah led the team with 98 tackles, while adding 3.5 sacks, six passes defended and one forced fumble for the 2023 season. He finished fourth in the NFL in tackles-for-loss with a total of 20 during the regular season and earned his first Pro-Bowl selection.

"I've spent all that time was Sione and Jeremiah, and you don't always get that," Tarver said. "And so now when you when you do that, and you watch these young men just get better and better, and you're able to stay together, those are unbreakable bonds. We will have stories to tell and to watch them all grow up, it's amazing. Get the gain their confidence and help them make plays. And the more time you get in one spot, the cooler it is."

Tarver heads into his fifth season with the Browns in 2024, looking to build on the success of their defense and the growth of their linebacker room.

"I think at the linebacker position, we've been doing a good job of that," Tarver said. "We've been developing people and dealing with injuries because that's natural in football. So, I'm really excited about where we are, what we've been able to do and where we're able to go now."

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