The 2022 season for the Cleveland Browns was a miserable one for the linebacker group. As games fell off the calendar, more and more of them became injured. For some, the games they missed were substantial. There are those who feel that the Browns will need to bring in a new guy or two to compete this year.
Fortunately, GM Andrew Berry had quality depth with this group and then was able to sign some linebackers who came in and attempted to fill the needs of the defense as the body count mounted.
One of these able-bodied men was Tony Fields II (6’-0”, 222 pounds). Originally drafted by Cleveland in the fifth round in 2021, Fields had played mainly on special teams where he became known as a demon. This was quite a change from an athlete who had 375 career tackles at both the University of Arizona as well as West Virginia University where he led his defense in tackles. Fields came to the Browns as an every-down backer who could go sideline-to-sideline with 4.63 speed.
In college, he showed promise right out of the gate. As a freshman at Arizona, he led his school in tackles with 104 and was named a Freshman All-American by ESPN.com as well as 24/7 Sports. In subsequent years he had 89 and 94.
Fields, age 24, grew up in Las Vegas and played baseball, basketball, and football for Desert Pines High School. He played wide receiver when the offense was on the field, and linebacker with the defense. In the three years that Fields played football, his school only lost five games total. All three years he was named All-Conference and also All-City. In his senior season he was voted captain, and later named the team’s MVP plus First Team All-State as a linebacker. In his senior season alone, Fields had 110 total tackles and two interceptions.
As a youth and into high school, Fields’ father Tony Fields, Sr. was his football coach along with Coach DeRobert Kelly.
Fields played quite a bit last season with the Browns even before Anthony Walker, Jacob Phillips, Sione Takitaki, and JOK became injured and were ultimately ruled out for the year. In fact, in Week 2 against the Houston Texans he had a pick-six. Not only is he a good tackler, but he has coverage skills.
Last year he ended up as one of the starting linebackers going down the stretch with six starts and 276 snaps on defense to go along with his 290 snaps on special teams. Going into training camp this year, his focus is retaining a starting position and proving his worth.
Former Mountaineer Tony Fields was Johnny on the spot for Cleveland, recovering what was initially ruled a fumble by Diontae Johnson. The pass was ultimately ruled incomplete, overturning the call on the field. pic.twitter.com/LnGVyupYXb— Jed Drenning (@TheSignalCaller) January 8, 2023
The results spoke very loudly. With just six starts, he finished the 2022 season with 48 total tackles, one forced fumble, one batted pass, one tackle for loss, one interception, one defensive touchdown, one pressure, four missed tackles, and one hurry.
Fields is married with a four-month daughter. His Twitter handle is @T_Fields1.
This will be Fields’ third season in Cleveland. That magical third year is when most players have adjusted to the pro game and are expected to become starters. Fields is more than ready.
Dawgs By Nature caught up with Fields to find out if new DC Jim Schwartz is really as intense as he looks, what Fields’ off-season regiment is like, and how the defensive tackle group affects the linebackers.
DBN: You won a football state championship at Desert Pines High School. What was it like playing both sides of the ball?
Fields: It was definitely tiring, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world just to be on a football field at all times and not come out.
DBN: You were named First Team All-State as a linebacker in your senior season but had good numbers as a receiver. When you left for the University of Arizona, why did you commit to playing linebacker and give up the other side of the ball?
Fields: More so because of my tenacious attitude. I liked to be the hitt-er, not the hit-ee. I liked to be the hammer, not the nail. I didn’t like being hit when I was on offense although I played aggressively. What was fun to me was to make the tackle. I like to make big hits instead of touchdowns.
DBN: Every year in college you put up big numbers in total tackles. You had 104 in your freshman year alone and 375 for your college career. What do you attribute your success in regards to tackling to?
Fields: A lot of good coaching growing up from my father and Coach Kelly. They always stressed getting to the ball no matter what whether I make the play or not. That is something I turned over into college and then into the NFL. No matter where I played, I just go wherever the ball was no matter what.
DBN: In your rookie season with the Browns, you were a special teams beast. Is this a way to show you belong on the roster as long as you are productive?
Fields: Honestly, no matter what or where I am on the field, I am always going to go hard all out. Whether that is special teams or on the defense, I am going to bust my butt no matter what. I do attribute my success to special teams.
DBN: You can play inside and outside. Why is versatility a plus for your position?
Fields: I feel not being a one-trick pony by being able to run, attack blocks, take on blocks and set the edge. I can also cover a guy. That is a tribute to each college coach that I had which was five linebacker coaches. There were so many different schemes and so many different techniques that I transferred to the NFL.
DBN: Run back that Pick-6 against Houston last year.
Fields: That goes right back to what I said about flying to the ball. I was rushing the passer on that down and the ball was batted and I was getting to the ball and had turned towards the middle and saw the ball was right there. They were deep in their own end of the field so it was an easy score.
Editor’s note: In college, Fields had three interceptions but none went for a touchdown. This was his first NFL pick, so that memory is pretty sweet.
DBN: Some of your best attributes is your short-area quickness plus instincts. Is that your strategy so that you don’t have to take on these big offensive linemen head-on?
Fields: Sometimes that is true, but I like to switch it up. It all depends on my position on that play or if I have room to make a little swivel or a finesse move, I’ll use that. If I have to throw my hands on them I will. I have a lot of tricks in my bag where I don’t have to narrow my game plan. I go where my instincts go out. I don’t set any game plan before each play, I just rely more on my instincts.
DBN: One of the things that jump out on tape about you is that you believe in what you see, then you react, and go. Your thoughts?
Fields: That is the game plan playing linebacker is to read and react. Once you see something, you gotta go. In the NFL, if you are a step behind, you are not going to get there. Everybody is fast, everybody is strong, and they are all in the NFL now so they are good players. Gotta make sure you react and be ready to go.
DBN: So, in high school, you wore jersey #1. Arizona jersey #1. West Virginia jersey #1. How did you end up with #42 with the Browns?
Fields: When I got to the Browns they offered me two numbers. I took #42 to honor my Uncle Paul from Cleveland who gave me my first football. He wore that number when he played for Green Valley High School with my dad in Nevada.
DBN: Tell us about the first time you met with new DC Jim Schwartz.
Fields: The first time I met Coach Schwartz I was excited and ready to go. I love his energy. I love what he brings to the defense and what he brings to the team. He is always energetic and looking to progress and make everybody better. I was working out in Berea and met him his first day with Cleveland. We were able to talk a little bit.
DBN: Schwartz rarely blitzes, and requires his cornerbacks to play man. What is his vision for the linebackers?
Fields: I don’t know what he is going to do and I don’t know the game plan – yet. I will bet he switches things up just like he has in the past.
DBN: Is Coach Schwartz as intense as he appears?
Fields: Yes, absolutely. I love his intensity. That is the Number 1 thing that I like about him.
DBN: Former DC Joe Woods loved the 4-2-5. Now you will play a more traditional 4-3. Does this excite you, or will you miss that extra safety or corner on the field?
Fields: There is going to be an extra linebacker on the field now so you know that is going to excite me being in the 4-3. But I have played the 4-2-5 my whole career in college so the Joe Woods scheme was second nature to me. I was used to it with the Browns. The 4-3 scheme is not that much different. But as a linebacker, I am happy and ready for the 4-3.
DBN: What is your off-season workout sessions like, and what is your diet?
Fields: As far as diet-wise, I don’t particularly watch too much. I don’t obviously eat fatty foods or anything like that. But I am not one of those guys who has to watch everything. I have a great metabolism. I don’t watch what I eat yet at my age. Maybe further into my career, I will. Right now I don’t pay attention to my diet, but I don’t eat fast food or fried foods so I’m good. I still eat pizza – for sure. Starting now, I am going to be doing more lifting then three days a week more agility-type stuff.
DBN: What is your favorite part of playing linebacker?
Fields: So many favorite parts. Honestly, being in that center vicinity of the defense and reacting and get to the ball. That is whether it is a pass or a run. As long as you are always in the vicinity of the ball is what I like about playing linebacker. You get to be around the ball every play.
DBN: You are athletic enough to cover the tight end in space. What is the key to covering a guy who has the height and size advantage on you?
Fields: Using my weight and his momentum against him. I have to be aware of how tight ends run their routes and formation alignments - which is the Number 1 thing in football especially for linebackers to recognize. You can then tell which routes come out of certain formations.
DBN: The linebacker room lost a lot of bodies last year. Who is more critical to staying on the field: Anthony Walker or JOK?
Fields: I don’t really want to say who is more critical. We need both of those guys. They both bring their own attributes to the defense. They are both critical to the team actually.
DBN: Last year you had 290 snaps on special teams with six starts and 276 snaps on defense. How did that experience accelerate your development?
Fields: You have to be ready for the next man up. You have to have that mentality. When my opportunity came, I had to make sure that there wasn’t any drop off in production and maintain what the linebacker corps were doing.
DBN: Where are some of your favorite places to eat in the area?
Fields: My favorite place in Cleveland is Lago East Bank for steak.
DBN: How can the defensive tackles make life easier for the linebackers?
Fields: Just by doing what they do best by being by the ball and being bad asses. That helps the linebackers when they clear things up with the offensive linemen. Their job is to wreck havoc on the front line.
DBN: What is it going to take for you to become one of the starting linebackers this year?
Fields: Maintaining what I have been doing to show that I belong, being Tony Fields, and hope for the best. I can do the job, know my playbook, and will do everything that Coach Schwartz will expect from me and see what happens from there. I will give this team everything I have.
DBN: Coach Schwartz has had success everywhere he has been as the DC. Under his leadership, what are you expecting from this Browns’ defense this year?
Fields: I expect the Browns’ defense to turn it up. We are ready and have all the pieces. We have a good core of guys who have been here for the past two years. The young guys like me who are now in Year 3 now have more maturity. We are going to be a lot better and more energetic this year.
DBN staff writer Thomas Moore contributed to this article