Cleveland Browns young talent at linebacker creates interesting future
The Cleveland Browns have built up their depth at linebacker with young talent, which creates an interesting future for the veterans of the position group.
The Cleveland Browns linebackers became an issue for the defense last season, with the group struggling both in coverage and against the run. However, two of their veterans and leaders of the defense, Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert, dealt with injuries during the 2018 season.
The injuries tested the depth of the unit, and the test generally did not go well for the Browns. Missed tackles and open receivers in the middle of the field were a common theme.
The issues at the position made the position group a focus during the offseason for the front office. They made it known during the draft, selecting Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson in the 2019 NFL Draft.
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The rookie linebackers are expected to be the backups for the 2019 season, with Kirksey and Schobert starting. However, their additions, as well as recent waiver claim Malik Jefferson, creates an interesting dynamic for the Browns linebacker corps.
Schobert is entering the final year of his rookie deal and could become one of the highest paid inside linebackers in the NFL. However, with the Browns expected to have tight cap space in the next couple of years, it may prove to be tough to fit a potential Schobert extension into the mix.
Because of the youth at the position, the Browns may decide it will be easier to let Schobert walk instead of signing him to a large extension. But if they feel that is their best move, it could severely hinder Cleveland’s defense.
Schobert is one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL, and he proved it last season. He is comfortable dropping into coverage and making plays on passes thrown his direction. He also is the coach on the field for the defense and is responsible for lining up the unit before every play.
Those types of players are not easily replaceable. Having a player who can be the leader of the defense and perform like Schobert is important for any defense. So even with young talent behind him, the defense could deal with a drop off if any of the three young linebackers aren’t ready to take over the leadership role.
The Browns could already have an option on the roster to replace Schobert’s leadership on the field in Kirksey. But with a large cap hit and an out in his contract next season, Kirksey’s future is just as murky as Schobert’s.
With the Browns likely using two linebackers in their defensive formation for a large part of games in 2019, the young linebackers may not get a lot of playing time in 2019. But if they can show something when they are on the field, like Wilson’s coverage abilities, then they could gradually see more snaps.
But with Cleveland’s front office adding a bunch of youth to the linebacker room with the two veterans already having questionable futures with the team, it will create a lot of pressure on the veterans to perform. If they don’t, then the young linebackers could hit the field more often than expected during the 2019 regular season.