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Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: How will the linebackers improve under the schemes of Jim Schwartz?

Staff writer Anthony Poisal answers your questions


After nine days down in West Virginia, the Browns are back in town and the first week of training camp is out of the way.

It's an off-day Monday before the Browns practice in front of fans Tuesday for the first time in training camp, and we're breaking open the Mailbag before another busy week gets underway.

How do you rate the LB unit's improvements under the expertise of Coach Schwartz this early in Training Camp. - Jerry Booth Jr., Mammoth, WV

It's still a little early to fully break down the linebackers — or any other position — this early in camp. For a position as physical as linebacker, those assessments can only be made after at least several padded practices and preseason games, and we've only had two padded practices so far (one of which featured minimal team periods).

But with that in mind, we can still take a guess at how improvement can be possible for the linebackers. We know that new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has implemented a defense that's all about being simple and aggressive, and for the linebackers, that means cleaning up whatever slips through the defensive line.

The goal of the defensive line on most plays will be to react as aggressively as possible. Defensive linemen will have freedom to react to most plays as they wish rather than plug specific gaps, and the onus will be on the linebackers to take care of any business that slips beyond the line of scrimmage.

Here's how linebackers coach Jason Tarver best described it.

"Whether we're involved in the blitz or whether it's the four D-linemen, their job is to mess stuff up — wreck things. Our job is to fix it," he said. "As a linebacker, we're back off the ball and we've got to fix what's in front of us. We can play really fast if we know what we're doing and we know the calls. How Coach (Jim) Schwartz says it — and I like it — is it's like the times tables: two times four equals eight. You don't have to know all the crazy chemistry classes that I took, but we've got to know our job quickly so we can react quickly. That's the challenge, and that's our job in this defense."

That's something the current brass of linebackers should be able to do.

Why? Most of them all have calling cards of being fast players. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Jacob Phillips, in particular, were both drafted because GM Andrew Berry coveted their speed. Other guys in the group — Anthony Walker Jr., Sione Takitaki and Tony Fields — are smart players whose instincts will be counted on to react quickly on plays.

It should click well Schwartz's scheme, but we'll likely have to wait until Week 1 and beyond to truly see how the group will adjust to a new system.

Check out photos of the team during the sixth day of Training Camp

When will the Browns wear their throwback gear this season? I love them - Carella Blue, Akron, OH

The white helmets and throwback jerseys, the same the team wore for their 75th anniversary season in 2021, will debut on the road in Week 2 against the Steelers and then be worn at home twice. First in Week 6 against the 49ers — a game that has real potential to be a top uniform game of the year if the 49ers wear their red throwback jerseys — and again in Week 17 against the Jets, which is the lone home primetime game of the year.

Who will be the toughest opponent on the schedule this year? Why? - Mason Compiseno, Rocky River, OH

You could easily make an argument for any of the three AFC North opponents. All of those teams have high potential to be playoff contenders, and it's always a safe bet those games will be among the most competitive of the year.

But I'll go out of the division and the AFC for my answer and select the 49ers, whose offense could test the Browns biggest weakness last year — their run defense — while their formidable defense could serve as the biggest test of the year for QB Deshaun Watson. The 49ers were ranked No. 1 in total defense last season and eighth in the run game, and if head coach Kyle Shanahan can mold an effective passing game around Brock Purdy, Trey Lance or Sam Darnold, the 49ers could once again be a top 5 team.

Fortunately, the Browns will have a bye week before that matchup and will have time to rest and prepare. They could also benefit from being the home team against a west coast opponent.

But they'll no doubt need to play their best football to take down one of the best in the NFC.