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Browns Mailbag: How will the defense adjust with the loss of Anthony Walker Jr.?

Staff writer Anthony Poisal answers your questions every week


The "mini bye week" is over, and we're onto Atlanta as the Browns look to keep the momentum from a huge Thursday night win going through Week 4.

We're answering four questions to kick the week off.

With the loss of Anthony Walker for the season, who is expected to be the vocal leader of the defense going forward? - Chris A., Chillicothe, OH

The Browns have a ton of confidence in Phillips even though he's played in a relatively small sample size of 16 games since he was drafted in the third round in 2021. That confidence stems from Phillips' speed and instincts, which he put on full display last Thursday against Pittsburgh with two big plays — a sack and a pass breakup — in the fourth quarter. They were two of the most important defensive plays of the game and certainly showed Phillips is on the right track as he undergoes his biggest test yet in Cleveland.

"I thought he was outstanding," head coach Kevin Stefanski said Friday. "Jacob would be our green dot moving forward. He does a nice job of communicating. The two plays he made late in the game with the blitz and the sack and then the PBU were outstanding … Now with Anthony out, Jacob goes in there, and we have a ton of confidence in him. He plays like he plays last night, I think he can really affect the game."

The key word in your question though is "vocal," and Phillips knows how important that trait will be if he wants to truly fill the void from Walker, who was a top leader in the locker room and a team captain.

For Phillips, being vocal means adequately relaying play calls to the rest of the defense. He said Monday that he's worked on play-relaying duties since his rookie season and has learned over the years some of the key points of making sure he's efficient with the job.

"Your main mission and only mission is to make sure all 10 other people know the call," he said. "When you get in there, you want to speak clearly, you want to speak slowly and you want to project your voice so everyone can hear it. You also have to give them keys, like, 'Hey, it's third-and-short, earmuffs. Let's get off the field.' Just tips and motivation and down and distance tips."

Check out the best photos from the Browns win over the Steelers yesterday by the Browns photo team

Why does Greg Newsome line up as our slot DB? Wouldn't Martin Emerson be a better fit in the slot role for nickel and dime sets? - Michael R., Cleveland

The Browns have been grooming Newsome for the slot position since he was a rookie last year and went into spring practices this offseason expecting him to be their main slot corner after they traded Troy Hill to the Rams in the spring. Newsome and Denzel Ward have shared responsibilities in the slot so far, and when Greedy Williams returns from a hamstring injury, Newsome could be used in the slot even more.

That doesn't mean Emerson doesn't have a future in the slot, though. At 6-foot-2 and 202 pounds, he's the biggest guy in the cornerback room and has the frame to play the position, which sometimes features tasks bigger and more physical receivers, later in his career. The Browns are likely just being cautious with him now, however, and keeping him on the outside, where he mostly played at Mississippi State, rather than having him learn and practice both outside and inside positions. 

Why haven't we seen David Bell in action yet? - Nick W., Cleveland

Patience, my friend. We will see Bell soon enough. His snap count is already starting to increase in the first few three games — he totaled 22 snaps in Week 1, 20 in Week 2 and 40 in Week 3. He's only been targeted two times in that span, but as the snap counts rise, so will the targets.

The possibility of Bell immediately holding a big role in the offense took a hit when he missed the first week of training camp with a foot injury. He didn't play at all in the first preseason game and played only 23 snaps and 13 snaps, respectively, in the final two preseason games. He was always going to need at least a few weeks of the regular season to grow his role with the offense.

The fact that the Browns used Bell at 56 percent of the snaps in Week 3 suggests he may be ready for an expanded role soon, but we'll see. If Jacoby Brissett and Amari Cooper continue their hot start to the year, the Browns can afford to be even more patient with him.

What do the Browns do the night before a game? - Chase H., North Canton

The team usually holds a few meetings and a walkthrough practice in the morning regardless of whether it's a road or home game. Players then usually spend the rest of the afternoon treating their bodies and getting prepared for gameday. It's a pretty relaxed routine and allows everyone to properly recharge before going full throttle the next day.

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