The linebackers in 2020 had some issues. B.J. Goodson was the starting middle linebacker who had signed on with a one-year deal. He subsequently led the Browns’ defense in tackles, but wasn’t re-signed. He is currently unemployed.
The other linebackers were holdovers from the previous season with Mack Wilson, Sione Takitaki, Tae Davis and Elijah Lee. Then GM Andrew Berry inked Malcolm Smith in free agency plus drafted Jacob Phillips in the third-round of the NFL draft.
But DC Joe Woods doesn’t use the 4-3 as much as was expected. Instead, he employed the 4-2-5 for over 67% of defensive snaps. And in that defensive scheme, the two linebackers don’t necessarily have to be actual linebackers. A bigger more aggressive safety is not only an option, but in most cases preferred. This defense relies on speed rather than bulk.
So here is veteran Sione Takitaki.
Look what the Browns did in the off-season to the linebacker room: signed veterans Malcolm Smith and Anthony Walker in free agency then drafted Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in Round 2 plus Tony Fields in Round 5. That in itself says a lot. Plus, last year’s rookie Phillips has had a full year of seasoning and is prime to take the field as a starter.
Then there is Lee who is a special teams ace and Berry made a point to re-sign him. Montrel Meander and Wilson round out the remainder of this group.
But what about Sione Takitaki? Where does he fit in? Or does he?
LB Sione Takitaki: Stay or Go?
While the renovations to the linebacker position may not have been on the same level as those in the secondary, general manager Andrew Berry did address the position in the off-season.
The re-signing of Malcolm Smith, the additions of Anthony Walker, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Tony Fields, and a healthy Jacob Phillips does not leave much room in a defense that is expected to use just two linebackers a majority of the time.
The final spot will likely come down to a training camp battle between Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson, who were both part of a 2019 draft class that is not reflecting all that well on football guy John Dorsey.
The one edge that Takitaki has over Wilson is that he can tackle, as Takitaki finished last season with the second-best grade against the run on the defense from Pro Football Focus. That should help Takitaki earn another season with the Browns.
Stay or Go? Stay
Before we ask if Takitaki will make the cut, first let’s ask just how many linebackers is Joe Woods actually going to keep this year. Last season, Woods implemented the 4-2-5 over 67% of plays and the 4-1-6 on 9% of defensive snaps. That equates to about three-quarters of plays that only one or two linebackers are actually on the field. Add the fact that in the 4-2 one of those could actually be a larger safety, then the number of linebackers necessary to fill the defense shrinks even further.
Takitaki has experience and God bless him for that pick against the Steelers last year. He was Top-20 in the NFL at his position and appears to be getting better each year. He is an above average run defender but must show more improvement in the passing game.
Then there are the numbers. Last year the Browns kept seven linebackers. So for this year: Malcolm Smith, JOK, Jacob Phillips, Anthony Walker, Elijah Lee (special teams ace), and rookie Tony Fields. That’s six. The last spot should be a showdown between Takitaki, Mack Wilson and Montrel Meander.
I don’t think Cleveland will even keep seven this year and instead rely more heavily on the safety position to patrol the interior instead of using a linebacker. If you are only using two linebackers for most of the defensive snaps, why retain seven when you can keep six and then have another valuable defensive back instead?
Stay or Go? GO
I think Takitaki is a stay because even if he is pushed out of the starting lineup, he can be a plus special teams player. That matters. I don’t think Fields sees the field much but again if injuries happen the Browns don’t want to be counting on him, so being able to find a mixture of Takitaki and Philips that’s better than inexperience.
Let’s see how this season goes but I think we may see Takitaki flying down the field covering kicks at least this season.
Stay or Go? STAY
Moderator: Cleveland Browns Fans
Sione Takitaki recorded 41 solo tackles and 26 assists for a combined 67 tackles. Add one INT and one sack in his first year getting some real field time for the injury-riddled Cleveland Browns defense.
It’s a no-brainer that this front office doesn’t value the LB corps as much as they do the secondary, or a shiny new steel curtain. Or do they? Before the draft Andrew Berry and company decided to bring in a very underrated and high I.Q. linebacker, Anthony Walker. Walker just got finished molding arguably one of the best linebackers in the league in Darius Leonard. And now he has a young, hungry Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Tony Fields II to groom. So is Takitaki on the bubble here?
I sure don’t think so. Although he is more of “thumper” and the league is quickly trending towards a pass first direction, I believe with Walker as a new mentor that Takitaki will have a place on this defense. B.J. Goodson and Malcolm Smith led the room with tackles last year, but with Goodson gone and JOK learning the ropes, we will be seeing quite a bit of TakiTaki int short down plays where he flourishes at shutting doors where our D-line might leave them open. So unless Mack Wilson comes to camp and shows them something special, then expect Takitaki to be on that drawing board especially early in the season.
Stay or Go? STAY
What say you? Stay or Go? Will Sione Takitaki be on the 2021 opening day roster?
This poll is closed
The numbers say no