Sione Takitaki has some big shoes to fill
The biggest move of the offseason was signing right tackle Jack Conklin. The second biggest move was actually a move they did not make. Namely, they did not extend popular linebacker Joe Schobert, refusing to overspend, and instead using the money to address other priorities. That had the effect of angering the fan base, but Andrew Berry made it clear that they believed that linebackers are not worth as much money as defensive ends and cover corners.
In addition, the team had faith in its young linebackers. Berry’s ego was evidently not threatened by keeping players selected by his predecessor, John Dorsey, such as Sione Takitaki. This year Takitaki teams with former Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith and B.J. Goodson when the Browns play three linebackers. However, the Browns do not always play a 4-3, often preferring to use extra defensive backs rather than the normal complement of linebackers.
Cleveland did not see much of Takitaki last season, who was drafted third out of Brigham Young University but missed time due to injuries.
Takitaki is not super-fast at 4.63, but when asked to shadow Lamar Jackson he was a distinct improvement over Schobert, who was a 4.76 guy at the Combine. Frankly, that was a horrible matchup. Jabrill Peppers was really the perfect player to match up against Jackson, but he was traded in the OBJ deal.
Overall Takitaki ranks 18th among NFL linebackers but is not an every-down linebacker like Schobert was. The new reality is that the Browns are going to platoon linebackers with defensive backs depending on down and distance. Takitaki thus far has done everything they have asked him to do and the result is a much-improved run defense under Joe Woods than the Browns have ever had at any time in the past two years. It’s early, but so far it is working and Takitaki is a major contributor.