We're 23 days from the start of training camp in Berea, which means we have a little time to look toward the clouds and ponder deep thoughts about how things might go for the 2019 Cleveland Browns.
From that process, we've emerged from the inner portion of our football-focused consciences with nine very important questions related to this football team, which reconvenes for the start of camp in a month. We'll address one per weekday for the next two weeks. Next up: Two rookies who could play important roles in the 2019 season.
Browns Youth Football Camp at the Berea Facility on June 19, 2019
Most Important Question Ahead of Training Camp No. 3: Where will Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson fit into the defense?
Heading into the draft, the Browns' biggest need was fairly clear: Linebacker.
Sure, Cleveland could smile at the idea of returning both Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey, but the team had released Jamie Collins in the offseason and needed help at that position, as well as depth for a long season.
The Browns first addressed this in free agency by adding athletic, rangy linebacker Adarius Taylor, who ended up starting at middle linebacker for Tampa Bay last season after it lost Kwon Alexander. Taylor seemed to be the ideal fit in Steve Wilks' defense, which calls for versatile defenders who are capable of playing all three linebacker positions.
But Taylor alone still wasn't enough. The Browns needed more quality linebackers.
General manager John Dorsey added two in the draft, spending a third-round pick on a favorite of assistant GM Eliot Wolf, BYU linebacker Sione Takitaki. Wolf raved about Takitaki's ability to hunt the football and arrive with violence at the point of contact. Cleveland was ecstatic to add the guy it hoped would be there in the third round.
The Browns swung what many viewed as a steal later in the draft, selecting Alabama linebacker Mack Wilson in the fifth round. Wilson was projected to be selected as high as the first round but fell to the fifth, where Cleveland happily scooped him up.
Wilson played off the ball for most of his Alabama career but is versatile enough to play all three positions, just as Wilks desires. Need proof? Wilson also served as Alabama's backup long snapper and punter, removing the need for the team to travel a backup at either position. He also told ClevelandBrowns.com in May he played quarterback in high school among a variety of other positions.
Takitaki ideally fills the role vacated by the release of Collins. At BYU, he played both on and off the ball, but showed his greatest strengths as a Sam linebacker. In some of the film Dorsey played for local media after the draft, Takitaki shined in this role, squeezing the edge during one play against Wisconsin in which he recorded a tackle for loss by blowing up a running back in the backfield.
Slotting a rookie at the position is a risk, and we haven't seen much to tell us that Takitaki will excel early at the position during OTAs and minicamp because they haven't worn pads yet. Takitaki's best attribute is his physical style of play.
But each offers the potential to contribute to the position group that was seen as the biggest issue for the Browns on the defensive side of the ball. Training camp will tell us how big of a role each could play, but if one or both of the rookie linebackers appears suited for the challenge, the draft will exist as just the latest example of Dorsey's talent-scouting ability paying off for a Browns team that has seen a ton of positive turnover in short time.