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Jacob Phillips looks to 'play loose and play fast' in new starting LB role

Phillips will replace Anthony Walker Jr. as the starting middle linebacker


Jacob Phillips made two of the most impressive plays of his career on back-to-back drives Thursday night against the Steelers.

The first was a sack. On a third down with five minutes left, Phillips zipped around a blocker, chased QB Mitch Trubisky and tackled him by his ankles. He then shot back to his feet and leaped in the air as the FirstEnergy Stadium crowd roared for the Browns' lone sack of the game.

The second was a pass breakup, and it also happened on third down was even more impressive — and important — than the sack. 

The Steelers trailed by nine points with 1:57 left and were looking to gain five yards for a first down that would've moved them inside the Browns' 20-yard line. Trubisky rolled to his right and fired a pass to TE Pat Freiermuth, who was running past the first-down marker.

Phillips, however, was right behind him. He dove and swatted the ball before it arrived at Freiermuth, halting the Steelers' drive and forcing a field goal. This time, he celebrated with a finger wag.

"I think (those plays) are a testament, athletically, to what I can do," Phillips said Monday. "When you get that confidence, you play loose and play fast and put it on tape."

The Browns are going to need a lot more of those plays from Phillips in the future.

With LB Anthony Walker Jr. out for the season, Phillips is next up at middle linebacker and will step into his biggest role yet since the Browns drafted him in the third round in 2021 from LSU. Not only will he be a starting linebacker, but he'll also be tasked with wearing the green helmet sticker and relaying play calls to the rest of the defense.

Phillips has never been needed as an every-down player or placed in a prominent leadership role yet in Cleveland. Now, he'll wear both of those hats as the Browns head into their Week 4 game against the Falcons.

"I'm very excited," he said. "You always take advantage of every opportunity you can get. I'm going to have fun with it. I love the game, I love the team and I love everything that we have, so it's going to be a whole lot of fun."

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

The Browns have patiently waited to put the spotlight on Phillips the last two seasons. Injuries limited his availability as a rookie and a torn biceps prevented him from playing in all but three games last year, but the Browns still maintained a high degree of confidence and believed his athleticism and IQ would suit him well at middle linebacker.

Phillips mostly played with the first team during spring practices and training camp, yet the Browns still tabbed Walker as the starter before the season. Head coach Kevin Stefanski, however, was adamant that Phillips would still be a prime player in the defense.

Phillips played 20 snaps in Week 1 and 27 in Week 2 before replacing Walker for 46 snaps in Week 3. He likely won't leave the field now that he's replacing Walker, and his two big plays in the fourth quarter only assured the Browns that he's ready for what's ahead.

"The two plays he made late in the game with the blitz and the sack and then the PBU were outstanding," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "I was proud of Jacob because you wish you could put 12 guys out there for the defense. We listed him as a starter with Anthony early because those guys, I really think they are both capable of starting.

"Now with Anthony out, Jacob goes in there, and we have a ton of confidence in him. If he plays like he played last night, I think he can really affect the game."

Phillips has gained experience with the green sticker duties since his rookie season. Only one player is allowed to have an earpiece in their helmet and voice play calls to the rest of the defense from defensive coordinator Joe Woods, and Phillips has learned over the years what it takes to be efficient and adequate.

"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."

Then, it's time for Phillips to handle his own assignment on the play and wreak havoc on whoever has the football.

Phillips is confident he can do that, and after the way he played Thursday, the Browns are, too.

"Just keep playing, keep hustling and being there for my teammates," he said, "and it'll all come together."

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