The Cleveland Browns are without two of their starting linebackers from the beginning of last season.
Joe Schobert left in free agency and Christian Kirksey was released by the organization.
The Browns might be forced to roll with two second-year players in Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki at starting linebacker.
New defensive coordinator Joe Woods mentioned that he’d prefer to have a defense with an extra safety and just two linebackers on the field.
It certainly sounds like Wilson and Takitaki are in the running for being the two linebackers, but Woods did say it’s an open competition.
Woods said earlier in the offseason that he sees quick development happening from the linebacker spot.
Wilson & Takitaki In 2019
It seems quite crazy to think about two second-year players being your two starting linebackers going into a season.
However, Woods praised both linebackers and mentioned both players are young players that need to continue gaining experience.
“They are both athletic. They have cover skills. They have range. They play with a nasty demeanor,” Woods said.
Wilson certainly made a significant impact on the team last season while filling in for Kirksey.
He got the starting spot and finished second in defensive snaps with 88 percent.
Wilson finished the season with 82 tackles, one sack, and one interception through 16 games (14 starts) with Cleveland.
— Jake Burns (@jake_burns18) August 21, 2019
There are plenty of things that Wilson does well, but his coverage skills are lacking.
Quarterbacks completed 79 percent of their passes against him, which was the worst among the starters.
Although, Browns linebacker coach Jason Tarver did say he saw improvement from Wilson as the season went on.
Takitaki didn’t see quite as much time on the field as Wilson last season.
He didn’t see a defensive snap until Week 6, but began getting more action during the second half.
Last season, Takitaki finished with 105 defensive snaps, 14 tackles, and allowed two catches on three targets in coverage.
It was a small sample size, but the Browns saw plenty of potential and growth in his game.
Other Options At Linebacker
The linebacker spot is obviously the weakest area for the Browns going into the season.
They did little to improve at the position over the offseason.
The Browns drafted LSU linebacker Jacob Phillips in the third round of the draft.
Welcome to Cleveland, Jacob Phillips!
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) April 25, 2020
He put up some pretty incredible numbers in college, but who knows if the Browns will start him Day 1.
Woods has not ruled out the idea of starting Phillips right away, but it might be tough without any preseason games.
The Browns also added veteran linebacker B.J. Goodson on a one-year deal.
The four-year linebacker has been decent during his career but wasn’t too productive last season.
He finished with 37 tackles through 15 games (nine starts) with the Green Bay Packers.
Goodson will most likely be a rotational type of player but could grab a starting spot.
Who Wins The Linebacker Spots?
At the end of the day, Wilson and Takitaki seem like the best options for Cleveland.
Sadly, there won’t be a preseason, which is really going to hurt the linebacker competition.
Goodson could push Takitaki for a starting spot, but it sounds like the Browns want to see more of the second-year linebacker.
Maybe Phillips steps up and becomes a starter much like Wilson did last season.
Honestly, anything could happen in the NFL, but this is a position that should be addressed next season.
It’s unlikely that Wilson and Takitaki are reliable long-term options, but maybe they can get the job done for one season.