It is uncertain who will be the Cleveland Browns third starting linebacker, but it may be a position that may not be needed often in 2019.
When the Cleveland Browns decided to release linebacker Jamie Collins, it opened a starting position on the defense. With Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert manning two of the starting linebacker jobs, the other linebacker spot was expected to be filled during the offseason.
However, besides the Browns drafting two linebackers in the 2019 NFL Draft, it really has not been a position of focus for general manager John Dorsey and the rest of the front office.
And the reason why the third linebacker spot was not a major need for the Browns is because defensive coordinator Steve Wilks does not use the position often.
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Although Wilks was not calling plays for the Cardinals defense last season, he likely played a big part in game-planning what packages for the defense. And the Cardinals’ defensive play-caller last season, Al Holcomb, is the Browns linebackers coach.
With Wilks and Holcomb coaching the Browns defense, their usage in base personnel will likely be similar in 2019. And because the Cleveland front office did not put too many assets into the third linebacker position, it could have been a sign of what Wilks wants to do with his defense.
Because the NFL has become a pass-happy league, it is understandable that Wilks and Holcomb may prefer having an extra defensive back on the field instead of a third linebacker. Unlike the linebackers, adding to the secondary has been a priority for the Cleveland front office.
But not only have they added pure coverage players, they have also added multiple players who can play closer to the line of scrimmage. Safety Morgan Burnett has played plenty of snaps in the box during his career, including time as a linebacker for the Packers. The Browns also drafted Sheldrick Redwine, who has shown he can come downhill and make big tackles close to the line of scrimmage. So the Browns have been adding hybrid players this offseason.
Genard Avery was being talked about as the third starting linebacker next to Schobert and Kirksey, but he is more likely to be used as a rusher off the edge instead of being put into space to cover. And Avery showed last season he played much better as an edge rusher instead of being put into coverage.
During the one practice available to the media for voluntary OTA’s, Doug Lesmerises of cleveland.com noticed Avery was working with the defensive ends during the practice instead of the linebackers.
"Edge rusher Genard Avery, a fifth-round pick a year ago, is another second-year player to keep an eye on. He’s been discussed many places as the likely third starter at linebacker with Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert. But the reality is that the Browns may have five defensive backs on the field a lot. When Avery worked drills Wednesday, he was with the defensive ends, not the linebackers. – Lesmerises, Cleveland.com"
The way the defense appears to be trending, it seems likely that the Browns will be not be playing in their base defense frequently. The Browns may rotate in their linebackers who cover well, such as rookie Mack Wilson. But a 4-2-5 defensive alignment could be the go-to defense for the Browns in 2019.