The Browns spent two draft picks on linebackers in April.
First came Sione Takitaki, the speeding bullet of a linebacker from BYU, in the third round. Later, Mack Wilson joined the fray after sliding to the fifth round.
The notable play also came first from Takitaki, who irked coaches and veterans alike with his overaggressive style during the first day of training camp. That same exuberance -- or lack of control, depending on who you ask -- has led him to a number of positive plays in the practices since.
He was the talk of the rookies not named Greedy Williams. That is, until Friday.
Wilson announced his presence with an incredibly athletic, diving interception and return for a touchdown late in the Friday practice. He followed that up with more stellar play in the practices that followed, demonstrating a natural nose for the ball while racking up additional pick-sixes.
Drafted together, they'll always be paired as two linebackers from the same class. They were placed together for room assignments from the start of rookie camp and remain roommates. They study their playbooks together. And it seems as if that's the best thing that could have happened to either of the rookies.
When they talk, it's almost always "me and Taki," or "me and Mack." They seem nearly inseparable.
"After our day is done for the day, we go back to the hotel, pull up the film and just kind of go over it together," Wilson said of he and Takitaki, "study our plays together so we both can sharpen our game up because we came in together and one day we want to be on the field playing at the same time. Our relationship has grown tremendously from rookie camp to now because I feel like he's a brother and I can fully trust him and count on him and we always push one another on the field to just try to be at our best and the best person we can be on and off the field."
Wilson recalled how he first saw Takitaki at the NFL Scouting Combine and was impressed by his speed and ability, thinking "he'll be a good player." He never thought they'd be teammates, though.
The speed still shows, and Wilson has a front-row seat for it, even when sometimes it gets Takitaki in trouble. Lately, though, it's led Takitaki to opportunities to make plays.
It's coming as a result of a relentless focus on the intellectual side of the game for both of them, and it has elevated Takitaki to defensive quarterback of the second unit.
"He kind of talks to himself a lot and he kind of motivates everybody around him," Wilson said. "He's a very talkative person."
His chatterbox style comes as a result of an overflowing desire to succeed in the NFL. While Wilson shares in it -- a key to their strong bond -- he has to tell his football brother to take his foot off the gas here and there.
"Sometimes I have to tell him 'man, go to sleep, bro,' let it come to him," Wilson said. "Because I feel like sometimes he be overdoing it. He be studying all night sometimes and sometimes he may come out to practice and kind of still mess up on little simple things because he got all this in his brain at once and he can't think."
The constant effort is showing on the field for both, though, and though he's the quieter of the two, Wilson is allowing his play to speak for him in the last few practices.
"They kind of got a taste of what I was capable of doing at Alabama but this is a whole different level," Wilson said of those watching him play. "I feel like my game can only get better with being around pro athletes and being able to get pushed by my coach -- coach Al Holcomb, coach Steve Wilks -- and some of the vets, Joe Schobert, Christian Kirksey, Adarius Taylor, Ray-Ray Armstrong, guys like that push me every day to be the best player I can be. If me and Taki are messing up plays, they kind of tell us 'next play' because we rookies, we gotta learn and I feel like you can only get better day by day."
Check out photos from the eleventh day of Browns Camp by team photographer Matt Starkey
Takitaki's and Wilson's steady improvement since rookie minicamp has the future of the position -- and the immediate depth -- looking much better than it was perceived to be back in the spring. Instead of a void existing behind Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert, now Takitaki and Wilson are there, ready and willing to step in when needed.
The key until that moment, though, is to continue improving, no matter the date on the calendar. That's how Takitaki and Wilson will ensure they remain teammates for years to come.
“I think some of these guys come out of school and they are swimming," head coach Freddie Kitchens said Tuesday. "There are a couple of different phases of their swimming here. One of them is in the spring when they are first initiated into. The second is when the minicamps and the OTAs start and the speed picks up a little bit. The third, they start swimming again when the pads go on. Things start going a little faster. It is a process for those guys. That is why you have training camp is to get some of those things worked out.
"I have been very pleased with Mack in the last three days. We need to keep stringing days together. Everybody needs to string days together, and you do that by just walking on the field and making the best of that day and that rep and so on.”
"The older guys are starting to see it click from the younger guys," Wilson explained. "As vets, they feel like they're proud because of what we're capable of doing and what we're doing on the field, so therefore they're feeling like the hard work is paying off."
It is paying off. And while Wilson might have to drift off to the sounds of Takitaki whispering the defensive calls to himself late at night, he'll likely be glad to hear them at full volume during the day. And when the whistle blows, he'll have his football brother there to pick him up.