Browns Linebackers coach Jason Tarver Praises Takitaki

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Browns linebacker coach Jason Tarver tallked with reporters about his group of players. Here is the transcript.

Linebackers coach Jason Tarver:

Opening statement:

“So great to be here, first of all. Great to be at the Browns – great history. My family and I, we just moved up here and we are excited to be here.”

On how LBs Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson have impressed him this offseason, given their potential roles in their second season:

“Our linebacker group attacked the offseason, and that was great to see. They competed, and they worked in many different ways. I think this offseason, we were able to find out and really focus on how guys learn because we were able to do different recorded meetings, meetings like we are doing right now on Zoom where we can be live, really get to know each other and we could give them a lot of feedback. Specifically to Mack and Sione, they are very competitive, and they really attack the playbook. They want to be good. Mack was on the field enough to where he knows what he can do and what he needs to work on, and the same with Sione. Sione had the early season injuries, but Sione for example, his field work that he is doing right now – it is really interesting because they are doing so much field work on their own – it is awesome. He would put his helmet on and just got better and better at moving and running. Very competitive young men. We are excited to see what they do when we get to practice.” 

On what has been so interesting about Takitaki’s field work:

“Just how he is moving and how powerful he is. He is really competing in the workouts to cover the most ground, to break on throws and to control his body and space would be a few of the things he is doing well. Mack, too. All of them. I do not want to isolate too many people, but they have all [done well]. What was cool about this virtual offseason program is they all improved because we could really focus on their drills and their individual body position because everybody moves differently. Different is not bad; it is different, which is one of our sayings. Like this offseason, different is not bad; it is just different so we are going to deal with it and we are going to get better. They have all improved with the feedback on the drills and just improving in your drills that linebackers have to do like shuffling. You have to be able to move through things and diagnose run pass. They all improved that way.”

On if it is becoming clear who will start at each LB position or if that is too difficult to determine during a virtual offseason program, as well as if the coaches can review the field work players do:

“They have the ability to send us videos, and we can give them feedback so that is how we did that. Obviously, they are working on their own so they did a great job there. The depth chart and things as you have heard from both (Head) Coach (Kevin) Stefanski and (defensive coordinator Joe) Coach Woods will be determined when we get into training camp and we can actually practice. The thing that we can control in this offseason is how well we know the scheme, and a lot of our linebacker position is interchangeable. They are all going to have to do certain things, which we are going to rush them, we are going to drop them and they are all going to have to be in situations and do similar movements. We have been training those movements so when we do get to get on a practice field, their bodies are trained and they know the work so that we can really just focus on the playing. A lot of that is to be determined. In our room, it is a great competition from trying to get answers right to trying to do things better than the other guys, and that is what it is about. Everything is a competition.”

On if the Browns have the personnel needed to accomplish their goals at LB:

“We do with (LB) B.J. Goodson in the room, who has played at a pretty high level in the NFL in certain football games for a couple different teams, and we have a good mix of body types, as well. They all can run, shed and like contact. Those are some of the things that we talked about becoming our identity when we get to play.”

On having a young LB room when coaching a new team:

“Fortunately, this is Year 17 for my family and me in the NFL. We have seen a lot of different situations. What is cool about that is every player is unique and every player is different, and our job as a coach is to help them get better. No. 1, we are excited about that opportunity to get better. With this group, you can see that… One word used is ‘upside’ or ‘ability.’ The only way to get better at playing football is actually getting reps and playing football that you can get your bodies ready, and that is what we are working on. We are excited about this mix because we do have a mix of body types and athletes, and we are going to see how this works, how guys are able to get in and who works best together and who takes advantage of the reps when we do get to practice. We are excited about it, and we do think we have the pieces to run Coach Woods’ scheme.”

On if the Browns need to add another veteran LB prior to training camp for more comfort:

“Good players are good players. I know (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager) Andrew (Berry) and Kevin are scouring all the time. That is their job. What we do as coaches, especially position coaches in the NFL, is we are going to give our best to each player in our room. I stay as strong and solidly focused as I can on that to help our players. Myself and (senior defensive assistant) Coach (Ben) Bloom because we coach these guys together, we focus on that. We are going to give the guys that are in our room our very best because we can’t control those other things.”

On LB Jacob Phillips and if this offseason is particularly tough on rookies:

“What we feel fortunate about is Jacob is a very smart, productive young man with high energy. He is very productive. He is a good box player who just got more and more productive as he went through the year on a championship team. He is a winner, and he has good length, top speed and power in his body, which has improved throughout the offseason, which has been great to see. He is very smart, and he wants to know all of the positions. We actually just got done with a rookie Zoom meeting, kind of like this where we were asking some questions and answers. He does a heck of a job of knowing what is about to happen to him and really taking notes. Been impressed there. Now, is [this offseason] harder? Yeah, it is different because you are not on the field with everybody, but what Zoom does allow you to do is spend some time in different little groups so everybody can get to know everybody and at least have a feel for who they are as people. Jacob has done a good job with it.”

On if the Browns have been able to determine who will be considered to be the defensive play caller during the virtual offseason program:

“I will start with this, I think myself, Coach Bloom and all of the coaches have become better coaches this year because we have to be really creative to get that interaction. What we did in the linebackers room is first, we did some things where when we installed, they had to go in order and everybody had to call out every position. That is what we mean when Coach Woods said cross-train. They had to know what everybody was doing and make the calls. We could see who was more verbal than others and who was picking it up. They all picked it up by the end of it, which was impressive, which is actually an advantage because sometimes when you are in the meeting room, the dominant personalities dominate in anything, not just in football. We went one at time, and I varied the order every day. Sometimes, even the rookies went first so they were all put on the spot and we could hear everybody talk. It was awesome because they started correcting themselves, and that is what you want. That was one way we built interaction in our linebacker meetings. Then, we began to progress to being able to watch video, make calls out loud and put them all in different spots. We finished the last couple weeks with some of those things where we are watching certain things, like being able to tell the difference between run and pass and certain formations people are attacking. I know that is a long answer, but this is what was fun about the offseason was really getting to know the guys and see how quickly they can see things and make calls and then be able to help them be able to do it quicker. You are obviously not practicing so you are trying to simulate everything you can to get better when you are not practicing. We did that, and all of them stepped up. That was cool to see.”

On what stood out about Wilson in 2019 and what he needs to improve:

“No. 1, he improved with every rep that he had. I do not remember the exact number. It was over 900 snaps so he is definitely not a rookie anymore. We don’t treat him like he is a rookie anymore. We don’t treat him like one. He got better as the season went, for sure. He knows his body. He likes contact. He got better and better and better at taking people on as the season went on. He does chase the ball. He plays with energy. He is one of the guys that we saw when we watched the video that did have energy and other guys rally around him. He also has good cover skills, and he is very ball aware. There is only one ball on the field, and it is what we want to get and get it back to the offense. That is what we want to do on defense. Mack is very ball aware. That is something he was in college that I liked about him, and he has continued to improve there. Some of the things that we have been working on is – we know he likes contact and we know he can cover -- now it is how can he fit in this scheme and how to use that ability.”

On Wilson being active on social media and expressing he wants to have a big year, and if he believes Wilson can accomplish that goal:

“I think everything is competition. I think he approached the offseason in the right way by coming to all of the Zoom meetings, training and doing what was asked of him, but it is going to come down to the competition on the field. I love his energy. We see all of that, too. We follow each other on social media so that is a good thing. He has been great at communicating with me, and it is awesome to have the individual goals, but I know he is oriented, just like the rest of our defense, which it is going to be about us. The start of every linebackers meeting says, ‘2020 Cleveland Browns: It is about us. An Identity’ because your identity is what you look like when you play. I am very hopeful he gets what he wants by showing off our identity this fall whenever we get to play.” 

On if it is a top priority to get more game-changing plays from the LBs:

“I think the more you do right, the more you run to the ball as a defense, the more that you get all 11 around the ball… Something that is said by Coach Woods and Coach Stefanski is we are going to run. How we play, that is what I mean on the identity. What does it look like when you watch us? Does it look like there is more of us out there than 11? Why are we running? That is where big plays come from. That is the No. 1 thing, and doing our job. One out of 11. That is what we have to do. We have to do our job. The more you do your job and you are closer in coverage and do your run fit exactly right, the better chance you have of you or somebody else making a big play. Most big plays come when you are just busting your tail and then there is the ball. We are going to be very ball aware. The big play ratio is going to come from that. Are we running? Are we doing things right? The more that we do that and are ball aware, then that is where they are going to be developed. This system is awesome for that with coach Woods. We are excited about it.”

On if there an ideal spot for Phillips and if he has a shot to become a starter right away:

“Right now, first of all, it is an open competition that all of our guys have a chance. It is open. That is the good part about this room, and they know it. B.J. Goodson signed with us because he wanted a chance to compete and be able to do that. You have Mack, Sione, Jacob and the other guys – do not be mad at me other guys for not naming everybody at the moment (laughter). It is open, and that is what it is exciting. That is one. Then two is the guys that play – I do not want to get too much to positions or scheme or anything like that just because we are still building it – the guy named the MIKE linebacker just ends up in the middle of the field more than the others, where the other guys on the edges will play a little bit more in space and maybe pressure a little more. That is really the only difference. Jacob has the skillset for all of those, and that is what we wanted. We wanted football intelligence. We wanted length and speed. He has those. What I mean by length is how well you are able to separate from blockers and things like that, which he has done. He did that pretty well at LSU. Being only 21 and coming out early, he sort of had some things, and he has even gotten better with that in the offseason that he can do on shedding blocks and making plays, but he was highly productive. Leading that team in tackles is a big deal. His skillset really fits for any of the spots.”

On if he can or will use it as motivation that some people question the ability and experience of the Browns LBs:

“The biggest thing is what I just said to you guys is the start is about us. It matters what we do. It does not matter as much what is said. It all comes down to preparing ourselves so that when we get the attempt at making a big play or whatever it is, that we are in the right spot and we can do it. It is about us, and then being ourselves. As coaches, we want them to be the best player and best person they can be, and that is that identity piece. We are really focused on that at the moment because that is what we can control. The other stuff is the other stuff. As we get to that and hopefully we are continuing to improve and get better every single week and our production is where it needs to be, that is what we are headed towards. We are going to really control [what we do], and in this environment this year, there is a lot of stuff moving around. We are expecting things to change because we do not even know when the start of training camp is yet. We are going to get our bodies in shape, our minds right and go from there.”

On why Goodson was an offseason target and if he envisions Goodson having an expanded role compared to past seasons:

“We liked B.J.’s length and his ability to use his hands, and he is a run-and-tackle player who has shown the ability to do that. His number of snaps will be what he earns. He knows that, and we brought him here with that mentality and he came here with that mentality, which has been great. ‘I am going to earn it, and I want the opportunity that there may be more playing time here.’ I said it a while ago about the competition, that is what it is going to be all about. B.J. has been competing his tail off, and he has been the same every day, which is a big compliment. In this business, it is hard to be the same every day. It really is, both on and off the field. The more you are the same every day, the better chance you have to do for all of the questions that were asked today. B.J. has done that being the same guy every day. Being a pro is what we are all looking for. That question is however much he earns, he will be able to play by knowing the system, by running, by getting off of blocks and doing his job.”

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