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Most Important Questions

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Most Important Questions: No. 7 - How will the wide-open competition at linebacker shake out?

Training camp can't get here soon enough. By then, we'll have plenty of answers to all of the loose ends surrounding the 2020 Browns.

For now, we simply have some questions.

Over the next few weeks, we'll be discussing those queries and analyzing the variables that accompany them. We've narrowed our list to 10, but there are certainly many more that will need to be answered by the time Cleveland opens the season against the Ravens in Baltimore.

We're continuing today with a look at the Browns' youngest position group that also contains the most available starting jobs.

The question: How will the wide-open competition at linebacker shake out?

Within a couple of weeks of each other, the Browns closed the chapter on an era with Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey leading the linebacking corps and opened a new one that will feature a number of their youngest players on defense.

Who those players will be, though, is an answer that will be gathered on the field at training camp. That was made clear in a recent interview with Jason Tarver, the Browns' new linebackers coach. He loved what he saw from the group during their virtual offseason meetings and he's a big believer in their potential. Tarver just wasn't ready to pencil in anyone at any of the positions.

"It is an open competition that all of our guys have a chance. It is open," Tarver said. "That is the good part about this room, and they know it."

From an experience standpoint, no one has more than B.J. Goodson, who was signed at the start of the league year after spending a year with the Packers and the previous three with the Giants. Though he's been guaranteed nothing, Goodson said he envisions himself as a middle linebacker and has worked to establish himself as a leader of the group.

"The more you are the same every day, the better chance you have," Tarver said. "B.J. has done that being the same guy every day. Being a pro is what we are all looking for. That question is however much he earns, he will be able to play by knowing the system, by running, by getting off of blocks and doing his job."

Mack Wilson wasn't supposed to play as much as he did as a rookie, but Kirksey's season-ending chest injury, suffered just two weeks into the season, thrust him into an expansive, every-snap role. There were ups and downs, but Wilson made the most of it and showed some noticeable strides.

He certainly appears to be a front-runner for one of the spots, but he'll have to ride that momentum into training camp and show he's ready to handle whatever role he'll assume in Cleveland's new defense.

"We don't treat him like he is a rookie anymore," Tarver said. "We don't treat him like one. He got better as the season went, for sure. He knows his body. He likes contact. He got better and better and better at taking people on as the season went on. He does chase the ball. He plays with energy. He is one of the guys that we saw when we watched the video that did have energy and other guys rally around him."

Sione Takitaki, selected two rounds earlier than Wilson in the 2019 draft, didn't receive the same kind of opportunity. Takitaki was injured during training camp and was the backup for Schobert, who was healthy and played almost every snap. Still, he found opportunities here and there and enters 2020 with optimism he'll be a legitimate competitor for one of the openings.

"Last year, I was learning where I should line up, and I was playing slow," Takitaki said. "Now, with all these new coaches, I can come in and play fast."

Third-round rookie Jacob Phillips shouldn't be counted out, either. An opportunity will be there if he proves himself during training camp. His versatility could be the path to some immediate playing time.

"Jacob has the skill set for all of those, and that is what we wanted," Tarver said. "We wanted football intelligence. We wanted length and speed. He has those."

The spring was important, but the late summer is when this competition will be settled.

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