The Cleveland Browns were hoping their rookie linebacker would earn playing time. Instead, injuries could force them on the field at the same time.
The Cleveland Browns are preparing for their Sunday Night Football appearance against the Los Angeles Rams on a short week, and that is not helping the team get healthy. On Thursday, 16 players appeared on Cleveland’s injury report.
Eight players did not participate in practice, including two of Cleveland’s starting linebackers in the base defense: Christian Kirksey and Adarius Taylor. Taylor is expected to miss his second straight game while it was already announced Kirksey will not play Sunday.
Without Kirksey and Taylor, the Browns will be forced to use their depth at linebacker, which includes rookies Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki. Wilson has already seen some snaps on defense, playing 11 defensive snaps total this season. But Takitaki has primarily been featured on special teams.
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Against the Rams, Wilson will likely move to WILL to replace Kirksey. Wilson has been the primary linebacker the Browns have gone to in case something happens to their outside backers. But with Wilson moving and the Browns still needing to replace Taylor, the Browns will either have to move Takitaki to outside backer after primarily lining up as the middle linebacker during training camp or start another young linebacker.
If the Browns do not feel comfortable with Takitaki as the SAM, they could decide to use Malik Jefferson, who has more experience playing as an outside backer. But no matter who they decide to replace Kirksey and Taylor with, they are going to be tossed in the fire against the Los Angeles Rams.
The Rams have one of the most potent offenses in the entire NFL and forces opposing linebackers to cover well in space. But at the same time, their running game forces linebackers to stay on their keys. If not, the Rams can take over a game with an efficient rushing attack.
Wilson and Takitaki were expected to play in small sample sizes this season. Instead, they are both going to play expanded workloads against one of the toughest offenses in the NFL. If the first-year players make any mistakes, the Rams will be able to exploit it.
The Browns defense is going to need to step up as the offense works through kinks and attempts to find its identity, especially against a stout Rams defense. If Cleveland’s defense can’t keep the Rams out of the endzone, it could be a long game for the Browns in a primetime slot.