If there is one position where things very much still need to be sorted out for the Cleveland Browns, it’s at linebacker.
The Browns waived goodbye to a pair of veterans in Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert this offseason, opting to go the younger route with 2019 draft picks Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki leading the way.
The team also signed former Packer B.J. Goodson to a one-year deal to heat up the competition at inside linebacker. Goodson is ready for the internal competition.
“I compete with myself. That is my biggest opponent,” Goodson told reporters on a conference call. “I compete with myself every single day. I know guys use that and say that a lot. The way that I visualize the game mentally and the way that I prepare for the game mentally, I go at myself a lot and dig into myself a lot.”
Goodson played 254 snaps last season on defense in Green Bay and also contributed on special teams. He started nine of his 15 games with the Packers, finishing with 37 tackles. He started 20 games in the two previous seasons combined with the New York Giants. Goodson totaled 114 tackles in those games.
Despite his lack of a Pro Bowl-type resume, Goodson carries confidence and swagger in his game.
“I feel very confident in my game,” Goodson said. “If you ask me, I will just tell you that I prepare and I’m able to perform as well as any other linebacker in the league, not just to point out one guy. I feel very confident in that with the opportunity given.”
B.J. Goodson Plans to be Leader for Browns
Goodson is just 26, but that makes him the elder statesman among the Browns linebackers. Wilson is 22 and Takitaki just 24. Knowing that, Goodson is good with sliding into a leadership role.
“[My mindset is] to get these guys better, including myself, for us to be the best linebacker corps across the league,’’ he said. “That’s my job, and that’s why they brought me here. I’m looking forward to that. I’m up for the challenge.”
The Browns will have some production to replace and leadership gaps to fill in. Schobert — now in Jacksonville — made 133 tackles last season, leading the Browns. He also snagged four interceptions and collected a pair of sacks. It was his third season in a row with triple-digit tackles, totaling 104 in 2018 and 144 during a Pro Bowl campaign in 2017.
When healthy, Kirksey was also a high-producing talent. The captain of the Browns defense had 138 tackles in 2017 and 148 the year prior to that. He had 484 tackles, 11.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions during his time with the Browns. He signed with the Packers this offseason.
Mack Wilson Confident in Browns LBs
Wilson was forced into action after an early-season injury to Kirksey, and the Alabama product performed admirably. In 14 starts, Wilson racked up 82 total tackles from his inside linebacker spot to go with an interception and sack.
While there were some rookie moments, Wilson’s athletic versatility established him as a key piece of the defense going forward, so much so that he earned $415,296 in performance-based pay from the NFL. That was the second-highest number, behind only Kansas City cornerback Charvarius Ward, who received $428,335.
There’s been some criticism early of the Browns linebacking corps, and Wilson has not been scared to fire back.
“Worst LB core in the league huh? EL OH EL! No Bark ALL BITE!” Wilson recently wrote on Twitter.
— Mack Wilson (@5mackwilson1) May 20, 2020