MENTOR — Linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. thought free agency might take him elsewhere after two years with the Browns — possibly following quarterback Jacoby Brissett to the Commanders — but he re-signed on another one-year deal.
Now that he’s back, he’s determined to return to the field in time for training camp in July and be better than ever for the season opener in September.
“By training camp, we want to be full goal and we want to be 1,000 percent good to go by the first game,” he said Monday at the Girls High School Flag Football Championship.
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Walker missed the final 14 games last year after his quadriceps tendon tore against the Steelers on Sept. 22. He’s still rehabbing but has begun running.
“It’s going well,” he said. “It’s a daily process, just taking it one day at a time. Everything that I thought I would never be able to do again slowly but surely coming back.”
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The defense missed Walker’s communication, leadership, intelligence and speed after the injury. The run defense fell apart beginning in Week 4, allowing at least 130 yards in 10 of the final 14 games.
The front office, coaching staff and players expressed their excitement when Walker agreed to re-sign in March. The flirtation with the Commanders came first, after Brissett landed there after a year in Cleveland. Walker and Brissett are close, were also teammates with the Colts and tried to make it work in Washington.
“That was the plan. Obviously when he went, that kind of kick-started everything and then we tried to make some things happen, but we’re back here,” Walker said. “That’s all that matters.”
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The Browns made the most sense.
“I knew the guys here, I knew the coaches here. Opportunity to play,” he said. “The opportunity to play was something that I always relished and I won’t take that for granted. Tried to test a couple things out, but ultimately this was the best fit.”
Add Walker to the list of guys excited about the addition of Jim Schwartz as defensive coordinator.
“It’ll be a great change,” he said. “I feel the energy within the guys already.
“You got to execute every day and that’s all that matters. So I think we have the guys to do it and guys are buying into the system and that’s what you want. But it’s a long process that we’re nowhere near where we need to be.”
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Walker has gotten really familiar with long processes as he recovers from the serious injury.
“The hardest part, obviously the mental, never being hurt before,” he said. “Sitting out 14 games and then watching another team hold a Super Bowl trophy up. That’s the hardest part, knowing that that’s why you play the game, play the game to be healthy, be out there with your teammates and then obviously compete for a championship and wasn’t able to do that.”
YOU GO, GIRLS
Walker was joined by cornerbacks Greg Newsome II, Thomas Graham Jr. and Mike Ford at the flag football event. The players were engaged despite the dismal weather.
“Oh, man, it’s amazing,” Newsome said. “This is actually my first time coming to something like this, so this is actually crazy to watch. And these girls are actually really, really good. If you watch some of the catches and stuff they’re making, they’re actually doing really, really good.”
Newsome is a proud fan of and advocate for women’s sports.
“I definitely make it a priority and it’s not something I’m just doing just because it’s a trend,” he said. “It’s just something I actually truly care about and I think it’s just a great thing.
“A lot of women are very athletic. They don’t get the same opportunities. So me being someone who has a big platform, a big following, I’m able to showcase women a little bit more.”
Defensive tackle Siaki Ika, a third-round pick out of Baylor, can’t wait to establish a relationship with Pro Bowl defensive end Myles Garrett.
“I’m looking forward to when he does (reach out),” Ika said Saturday. “He doesn’t know this, but he’s going to be my best friend. That’s my goal, as of right now, to be best friends with Myles. I’m really excited to play with him.”
Ika will also work closely with defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, who signed a four-year, $57 million contract as a free agent in March. Ika quickly started watching film of Tomlinson.
“I am trying to get to know the other players here,” Ika said. “I’m excited to get in and help stop the run and I feel like me and him can do it.”
Ford signed in March because he believes in quarterback Deshaun Watson and embraces the idea of turning around the special teams. He also likes the fans.
“The Dawg Pound, that’s one thing I’m excited for,” he said. “I’m a big dog guy. I have four Frenchies myself, so I’m excited for that.”
He’s an avid card player, mainly Spades, so he named the French bulldogs Joker, Ace, Diamond and Queen.