Just 19 more days until the Pittsburgh Steelers report to Latrobe for training camp. The past several days we have been looking at the state of the offensive lines around the AFC North and today we conclude that series by taking a look at the Cleveland Browns offensive line.
Gone from the Browns via free agency are Artis Hicks and Steve Vallos, and neither were a loss. The Browns also released guard Eric Steinbach and tackle Tony Pashos as well. Steinbach had missed all of last year with a back injury. The Browns addressed their offensive line in the draft by selecting tackle Mitchell Schwartz and guard Ryan Miller back in April. In addition, they added undrafted free agents Jake Anderson and Garth Gerhart and resigned veteran Oniel Cousins.
Let\’s now have a look at the projected offensive line depth chart of the 2012 Browns.
LT Joe Thomas – Thomas is just 27 years old and is arguably the best left tackle in the game currently. He has allowed just 17 sacks over the last 4 seasons and has started every game since being drafted in the first round by the Browns in 2007. If he has any sort of a weakness in his game, it is his run blocking at times, but he more than makes up for that in pass protection with his ability to recognize and handle all kinds of stunts and twist. He could eventually go down as one of the best left tackles to play the game when it is all said and done, as he is that good, and is such a technician at his craft.
C Alex Mack – Mack is another former first round pick of the Browns that is coming into his own now as he enters his fourth season in the league. He already has one Pro Bowl to his credit and has started all 48 games since being drafted back in 2009. Mack is not overly dominate in any part of his game, he just gets the job done. He has allowed just 7 sacks in his first three seasons and figures to be a mainstay on the Browns offensive line for several years to come.
LG Jason Pinkston – Pinkston, a product of Pitt, had a tough go of it in his rookie year in the run blocking department. The 2011 fifth round pick was thrust into the starting role last year when Steinbach was lost last August with a back injury. Pinkston has worked hard this offseason to get himself into better shape according to reports and he should improve as a result. Keep in mind that he had no offseason practice last year because of the lockout and he will benefit greatly from the extra reps leading up to this season. It will not hurt that he is sandwiched in between Thomas and Mack once again either.
RT Mitchell Schwartz – Schwartz is the new kid on the block after being drafted by the Browns in the second round this past April out of Cal. He has the NFL bloodline as he is the younger brother of Geoff Schwartz, who is currently a tackle with the Minnesota Vikings. Schwartz was considered a plug and play right tackle coming out of the draft, but he needs to work on getting stronger. Thomas recently said that his new teammate is more of a technician than himself, and that is strong praise coming from a 5-time Pro Bowler. While he is not the most athletic of tackles, he is nasty and plays through the whistle. The Browns had inconsistency at their right tackle spot last year in Pashos, Cousins and Hicks, so Schwartz needs to get up to speed quickly.
RG Shawn Lauvao – Lauvao, the Browns third round selection in 2010, finally became the starter at right guard last season. He allowed 6 quarterback sacks last year and was penalized a total of 11 times, the most of anyone on the Browns offense. He is a below average run blocker and will have the rookie Schwartz on his right side this year to try to build some sort of chemistry with. Lauvao figures to be the weakest link on the Browns offensive line this season.
G/C John Greco – The Browns traded for Greco last offseason and he could be considered the Browns top swing interior lineman this year. He has also played some tackle over the years so that adds to his versatility. He is not a long term quality starter though should injuries arise.
G/T Ryan Miller – Miller was drafted in the fifth round this past April out of Colorado. He has the size of a tackle, but is likely best suited inside at guard at the next level. He plays with a nasty disposition and figures to make the roster because of his versatility and upside.
T/G Jake Anderson – Anderson, an undrafted free agent out of Akron, has reportedly seen some snaps at left tackle this offseason. There has also been some talk that he could see some work at the guard spot as well and that is something to watch for during the preseason. The Browns are incredibly thin right now depth wise at tackle and it might take the preseason to sort out who fits where behind the starting five.
T/G Oniel Cousins – Cousins is back again and figures to try to make the team as a backup swing tackle. Although he has played a little on the left side over the course of his career, he would be a huge liability for the Browns there should Thomas miss any time with an injury. The former third round pick of the Baltimore Ravens spent most of the 2011 season on the Browns inactive list, so it is fathomable that he might not make the Browns 53 man roster should younger talent emerge.
C Garth Gerhart - Gerhart is an undrafted center out of Arizona State and should be considered a long shot to make the Browns 53 man roster. In all likelihood he will try to prove himself worthy as a practice squad candidate during the preseason.
Summation – The Browns have no worries with Thomas and Mack. Schwartz might have some early growing pains adjusting to the NFL game, but he should catch on quickly and provide the Browns with better right tackle play than they got last year. With a year under is belt now, along with a full offseason, it is hard to see Pinkston not making an improvement. That leaves Lauvao as the biggest question mark that the Browns have heading into 2012. However the depth shakes out for the Browns on the offensive line, there will still be plenty of concerns. While Greco is versatile, he can in no way be counted on to be a long term starter. Cousins very well could be on the street looking for a job come September if Miller and Anderson have good preseason showings. Steinbach is still currently a free agent and could be on the speed dial list should injuries strike. He reportedly wants to return according to Thomas, but the Browns likely want to see if Pinkston and Lauvao can handle the guard spots first.