In past years, the offensive line as a whole has been a question mark for the Cleveland Browns. However, after the first preseason game against the Lions, many questions seem to have been answered. This year’s offensive line has the potential to be one of the best in the league and anchor the Browns in the rugged AFC North.
There’s an old saying that says when the quarterback passes the football, three things can happen and two of those things are bad. In past years, the Browns’ rushing game has been anemic, and this has very much caused the offense to become one-dimensional, putting a lot of pressure on quarterbacks and receivers to make plays against teams who would load up against the pass. In 2014, however, the Browns will use a zone blocking scheme to utilize the athleticism of the improved offensive line. Briefly, a zone blocking scheme is one in which the lineman move laterally, allowing the ball carrier to follow toward the outside run, eventually cutting back into a potential hole created by the lineman. No longer is the running back told to run to a specific spot. Instead, the “hole” is dictated by the offensive line and how the defense reacts to the play. This will be an interesting change to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
Regardless of the schematics of the situation, the Browns offensive line is currently as follows:
LT: Joe Thomas #73
Since being selected by the Browns in 2007, the offensive lineman from Wisconsin has been a perennial Pro-Bowler, being selected in every season since being drafted. Thomas has shown great durability for the Browns, starting and finishing all 112 games he has played in his career. A sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, Thomas is the standard of comparison for NFL offensive lineman. No concern here.
LG: Joel Bitonio #75
The Browns selected Bitonio 35th overall in the most recent NFL draft after Bitonio had a stellar career for the University of Nevada from 2009 to 2013 in which he started 39 consecutive games. In the first preseason game, Bitonio was the only rookie to start the game. Bitonio was an undersized tackle in college and is making the transition inside to guard. So far, the transition has gone smoothly, earning him praise in the Browns organization. As far as the starting position goes, it seems to be his to lose.
C: Alex Mack #55
Like Thomas, Mack has been an anchor for the Browns since he was drafted 21st overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. Mack is coming off his second Pro Bowl season in 2013. The Browns matched Jacksonville’s 5-year, $42 million contract offer this offseason, solidifying Mack as the Browns center for the long term. As with Thomas, no concern here.
RG: John Greco #77
The Browns acquired Greco for a 7th round pick in 2011 and since, Greco has been in and out of the lineup for the Browns. Since Jason Pinkston was forced into an early retirement due to a blood clotting issue in his lungs, Greco seems to be the guy the Browns will look to at right guard. Greco helped himself in the first preseason game vs. the Lions, as the first unit did not surrender a sack to Brian Hoyer. Also, Greco delivered a memorable big hit on a Lions defender after a cutback by the running back. These certainly helped his cause to secure the starting job.
RT: Mitchell Schwartz #72
Schwartz may be the weak link the Browns offensive line, but seems to have shown improvement in his two seasons with the Browns and hopes to continue that improvement in 2014. Schwartz seemingly has a good grip on the starting job at right tackle for the Browns and should benefit from the new zone blocking scheme as well.
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