With the team well into the dog-days of training camp, the grueling two-a-day sessions have left the team a somewhat weary and chomping at the bit to get their preseason work in and head off to the regular season.
Here's what we've been told. While the majority of the media focus in training camp has been placed on the quarterback competition, the battle at the linebacker spots has been extremely competitive - which was expected by the coaching staff.
Second-year linebacker Ben Taylor has been very good in training camp up to this writing. Making a minimal amount of mental errors on the field, Taylor has been solid in his technique and is really grasping the opportunity he currently has. Taylor has some advantages due to his speed, very good quickness, and awareness, and demonstrated dedication in his off-season workout regimen in Berea. Taylor also spent a significant amount of time in the film-room with the coaching staff.
One indicator of the coaching staff's thought process was unveiled when the team started rotating the linebackers around, where Taylor was singled-out for his practice at the weak-side linebacker spot. The lights went on in Berea with the thought of utilizing Taylor's athletic and mental ability to play linebacker behind a pass-rushing defensive end, either Mark Word or a healthy Courtney Brown.
The new Browns defensive scheme is looking to generate the majority of the pressure on the opposition offense with the defensive line. Taylor's ability to potentially lighten the rush responsibilities of Word and Brown is enticing to the coaching staff.
Taylor's off-season preparation, combined with his ability, has provided the Browns the opportunity to play him at the strong-side and weak-side linebacker positions, without a drop-off in production, or confidence from the coaching staff.
From what we've been told, Taylor has been the most consistent of the young linebackers from the team's 2002 draft class thus far in training camp. Coming off an injury-marred rookie season, Taylor has shown the coaching staff that he has very good sideline-to-sideline ground coverage ability, natural reaction and instincts, and a good burst when confronting the ball-carrier. Taylor has been consistent in his zone responsibilities from the linebacker position, much of which can be attributed to his pronounced improvement in play-recognition and back-peddle technique.
The bottom-line in 2003 is that Ben Taylor will be one of the Browns starting linebackers, barring any unforeseen incident. The question that needs to be answered is it going to be on the strong-side or the weak-side, but the smart money says that he'll see action in both spots.