Training fields

Tony Fields II relishes his role on Cleveland Browns special teams

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BEREA − Some footballers grow up enjoying throwing the ball. Some like to catch it or run with it. Some even like to block the guy in front of them.

Tony Fields II gets a thrill covering kickoffs.

“In college, I loved the kickoff,” Fields, a sophomore Browns linebacker, told The Beacon Journal this week. “They didn’t let me do anything else, or any of my schools [Arizona and West Virginia], but I love the kickoff. I want to do other things, and they tell me ‘No’. No no.'”

A 2021 fifth-round pick in West Virginia, Fields has found a place more than willing to grant his wish. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons Fields was able to find a niche with the Browns.

Need someone to cover the kicks? Fields will. Need someone to block someone else covering kicks? He will too.

There’s virtually nothing on special teams that Fields won’t and hasn’t done for the Browns. The only special team he didn’t line up with is the basket team.

“Special teams, for me, is the key to the game,” Fields said. “You can win games in special teams. I feel like a player in special teams must have a few screws missing. To want to run at kick-off, to want to block someone who is running at all speed on the court, we have to miss a few screws. But it’s really a lot of fun. It’s the tempo of the game.”

A year ago, Fields played 127 total special teams snaps, per Pro Football Focus. These snaps were distributed fairly evenly across punt return (44 snaps), kick coverage (42), and kickoff return (39), with two punt coverage snaps.

Fields’ attitude toward special teams is something that fits like a glove with the attitude that Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer looks for in players on those units.

“We have good young players who love football,” Priefer said earlier at camp. “I tell them all the time, ‘There’s something wrong with you in a good way if you’re going to cover a kickoff in the NFL.’ … At the end of the day, I think we have the right guys in the right places.”

Fields found that niche despite the rocky start to his NFL career. A foot injury took away his entire rookie minicamp, then within 24 hours of entering the field for training camp, he injured his other foot.

The first game Fields played as a rookie was in Week 3 against the Chicago Bears. A year later, he’s gearing up to see the Bears again, but this time it’s in Saturday’s preseason finale.

The fact that Fields even had a pre-season was huge for him.

“Camp was a lot of fun,” Fields said. “I’ve been healthy. This is my first healthy camp, as you know. So it’s been really fun to finally get out there and play the plays without just doing the plays in the movie theater or to walk around. Just actually able to go out there and perform it.”

The injuries that plagued Fields’ early career could have been deflated. It wasn’t a first-round — or even the first two days of the draft — pick.

Instead, it was a guy caught 153 overall. Not only that, but he was a guy who was undersized in some ways at 6ft, 220lbs.

Fields wasn’t going to let the rocky start deter him from trying to achieve a dream.

“I have a saying my grandfather gave me a long time ago,” Fields said. “’So what, now?’ So that’s how I live. I mean, things are happening. You just have to move on. You must take the cards dealt to you and play that card and wait until the next hand. So that’s what I did. Well, that’s what I did last year. I took the cards that were distributed to me, I understood that I had had injuries to take care of and heal. I took care of it as much as I could in the offseason. I rehabilitated and got as strong as I could, as fast as I could, and as soon as I got here, the work showed.”

A year later, Fields isn’t just finding his way on the court on special teams. The first two games of the preseason, with several key players selected for at least one of them, opened the door for him to start doing another thing he loves again, playing linebacker.

Fields played outside linebacker at Arizona but moved to tighter security when he transferred to West Virginia in 2020. His missed preseason kept him from finding work there a year ago. .

The Browns’ top four linebacker spots are held by Anthony Walker Jr., Sione Takitaki, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Jacob Phillips. Fields, however, at least had a shot at landing the No. 5 linebacker spot, and not just as a special teams contributor.

“I haven’t played a linebacker or fielded a linebacker in the game for two years until this year,” Fields said. “So that really helped me a lot. Just being able to find my flow, get back, get ready to tap my feet and flow with the linemen and all that. So that helps a lot. “

In the first two preseason games, Fields played 88 total snaps at linebacker. He played 38 snaps, 51% of all defensive snaps for the Browns, in Game 1 in Jacksonville, then played 50 snaps (68%) last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“Tony did a good job,” coach Kevin Stefanski said. “He played a lot of football for us last season on special teams and that will continue to be an area where he can have a big impact on Sundays. He got a ton of reps at linebacker, and we can count on him. at times this season. He tries to put it all together, but it’s just a matter of stacking the reps for Tony.”

Fields’ name may pop up for some as they discuss potential bubble candidates for the final 53-man roster. The Browns must hit that number by 4 p.m. Tuesday, though there will still be roster moves and shuffles between then and the Sept. 11 season opener.

But the special teams work Fields has been doing makes him feel like a player who will find a way to stay with the Browns through the regular season. If nothing else, the preseason snaps at linebacker provide him with more movies if things don’t work out with the Browns.

“The start of the list is over 85 people, then at the end it’s 53,” Fields said. “So the guys have to film. The starters are the guys who are obviously going to keep a 53-man already. So the other guys, we all have the chance to show our ability, to show ourselves to make this team or another team in the NFL.”

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On Twitter: @ceasterlingABJ

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