Want linebackers? OK, let’s look at the linebackers! Terry’s talking browns
It was a rather calm signing, but the Browns targeted Anthony Walker and went strong after the free agent center linebacker. They see him as a significant improvement over BJ Goodson – who has yet to sign with any team.
“He’s one of the fastest linebackers in the league,” general manager Andrew Berry said after Walker accepted a year, $ 3 million contract in March. Speed is a top priority for the Browns, especially the linebacker. That’s why they were thrilled to sign Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (JOK) from Notre Dame in the second round.
Digging deeper into Berry’s two drafts, he caught a quick Jacob Phillips in the third round of 2020. In the same 2021 draft as JOK, the Browns selected Tony Fields Jr. of West Virginia (also fast) in the fifth round.
Since taking over as general manager for the Browns in 2020, Berry has reshuffled the linebacker squad. The only remnants of John Dorsey’s regime are Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson. I guess only one will make the opening day roster with Wilson most likely to be deleted.
THE BIG PLAN
The Browns have two “tough, smart and responsible” veteran linebackers in Malcolm Smith and Walker. Smith is strong in passing coverage and leadership skills. But the Browns expect Walker to lead the defense. They thought Goodson was solid in it, but Walker can be special.
“It’s a very fast and very smart processor,” Berry said. “He called the defense in Indianapolis and he played Mike [middle linebacker] and go [weakside]. He’s an exceptional human being on and off the pitch. He will have a strong presence in our locker rooms.
Looking at the Profootballfocus ratings, Walker came out average. While the Browns are an analysis-based team, they are flexible and take intangibles into account. Walker exudes leadership. He would prepare his own scouting reports before receiving those from the coaching staff. Then he had brought them both together.
Colts coach Frank Reich called out Walker “the heart and soul of this team.” Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus praised Walker’s preparation.
THE CONTEXT ON WALKER
Yet the Colts also let him go. Why?
The Colts have star linebacker Darius Leonard looking at an extension in the order of $ 18 million a year. They have the second round Bobby Okereke on his rookie contract. Like most teams, the Colts don’t want to spend a lot of money on linebackers – at least, no more than one.
“(Walker) arrived as advertised,” Kevin Stefanski said earlier in the week during the OTAs. “You’re playing that linebacker Mike. You drive the traffic. You line up everyone. You are in many ways the quarterback of the defense.
“To see him communicate and see his leadership show in these kinds of contexts is very impressive. I think he’s the type of guy who embodies the style of play and the type of person we want in this locker room.
Walker is only 25 years old. In the past three seasons, he’s only missed one game playing 70 percent of defensive snaps.
PATIENCE WILL BE REQUIRED
There was a lot of excitement about the Browns picking JOK in the second round. He was expected to be a mid-late first-round player. Walker worked with JOK this week.
“Elite athlete when it comes to explosiveness, quickness, speed, instincts and everything in between,” Walker said at his Zoom press conference. “He has all the tools. It is now a question of taking the game to the level of the NFL. … We all fight this coming from college. … he’s an athletic freak of nature.
There is more.
“He reminds me of Darius Leonard,” Walker said. “Just a guy who’s learning to really understand the linebacker game rather than just running and hitting. Everyone loves to run and hit as a linebacker, but the NFL game is a little different. … I have no doubt in my mind that he will be a great player in this league.
But chances are it won’t be right away. Plus, the Browns are contenders. High draft picks are no longer given playing time as has happened over the years of trying to rebuild the franchise.
Because Walker can play a weak and middle linebacker, he can stay on the pitch when defensive coordinator Joe Woods moves up to his favorite lineup of two linebackers and three safeties.
1. I wouldn’t be surprised if Walker and Smith played a lot together. Or maybe Walker and Jacob Phillips in those two linebacker sets.
2. Berry on Walker: “He’s a guy whose reach and tenacity fits well with our view of the modern linebacker. We also think he’s a good kind of cover, especially with his ability to match the running backs coming out of the backfield.
3. JOK fits this description, but it’s a beginner. Smith is very good on coverage, which is why he played 97% of the snaps in the playoffs against Kansas City. Goodson played 75 percent of the snaps last season. Smith was next at 51 percent. Takitaki played 40 percent, Wilson 34 percent.
4. Phillips was injured a lot last season. In 2021, the door is wide open for him to join Walker and Smith as a third starter. It is too early to know if JOK can develop quickly. But the plan is for him to learn from Walker and others, and it’s already started in OTAs.
5. “When I came in as a rookie, (OTAs were) huge for me,” Walker said. “Even going into the fifth year… I have to be here to see (the defense) live with the moves and runs going against the offense. … I have improved a lot since Day 1 with communication and understanding of defense.
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