With all the offseason moves made by the Cleveland Browns following the 2017 season, the roster is looking so much better than it has for many years now. The only positions I had concerns about, with regards to quality and depth, were the linebackers and offensive line. The linebackers have been addressed with the additions of rookie Genard Avery (who I’m looking forward to seeing grow as a player in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns) and veteran Mychal Kendricks who has been brought in on a one year contract after winning the Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017.
The offensive line has also been addressed this offseason, however, it still has a long way to go, in my opinion, before us fans can start chanting about how we’re going to the playoffs in 2018.
As far as I can see, the Browns have eight or nine players currently who could make the roster for the 2018 NFL season with a few others who may surprise us all. The interior of the line looked to be sorted with J.C. Tretter sandwiched between Joel Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler to form a very solid and experienced interior offensive line trio. I mentioned in an earlier blog post about how I was intrigued and excited to see how the Cleveland Browns offensive line would shape itself this pre-season and the first adjustment seems to be in the process of working itself out.
A position we fans haven’t had to worry about for many years has been that of the left tackle spot seeing as possibly the best player to play the position, Joe Thomas, has been there for several years up until his retirement after a season-ending tricep injury in 2017. With his retirement came a big concern and one that could derail all the good that has been done so far in the rebuilding of the team if the coaching staff don’t get his replacement right and soon.
As I mentioned, I thought the interior of the line was sorted but rumblings for quite some time now have been about LG Joel Bitonio kicking outside to LT to fill the gap left by Joe Thomas. I have absolutely no idea if Bitonio will transition well to the outside but he’s a 5-year veteran coming into the prime of his career and has been a solid player when not injured.
Looking at the other options on the roster to start at LT, I think I actually like the Joel Bitonio option the best. If Chris Hubbard is indeed going to be the starting right tackle, after his move from the Steelers, then the only other options at LT are Austin Corbett, Shon Coleman, Spencer Drango or Greg Robinson.
To be honest, the only one of those four I’d like to see given a chance if needs be is rookie Austin Corbett as I just wouldn’t trust Coleman, Drango or Robinson. After watching both Shon Coleman at RT for the Browns and Greg Robinson stepping in for the injured Taylor Decker at LT for the Detroit Lions last season, neither should be starting at LT in Cleveland nor should Drango after what I saw as a generally poor showing in 2017 at the LT spot. They all have experience and should be considered to be the next men up at either tackle spot, but my hopes for the season would be downgraded if any started. I still maintain that Drango is a good guard but poor tackle.
Even before the Browns picked Corbett with the top pick of the 2nd round of the 2018 NFL draft, he and Bitonio had been working out and training together. I guess it was meant to be that they would end up on the same roster and be playing next to each other on the Cleveland Browns’ offensive line. The only question could have been which one would play inside and which one outside as Corbett spent his time in college at the LT position. Despite his experience in college being as an LT, Corbett has always been projected to play inside at the pro level due to his reach. It was this projection that confused me as to why they picked him when there were still players on the board that were being projected to play at LT in the pros but I guess Corbett was their guy all along and the Bitonio move rumours were true.
Current Offensive Line
So, with this current move during training camp the Cleveland Browns offensive line for the 2018 NFL season currently looks like this:
LT Joel Bitonio
LG Austin Corbett
C J.C. Tretter
RG Kevin Zeitler
RT Chris Hubbard
Not a bad looking unit so long as the switch on the left side works and Chris Hubbard is the under-the-radar quality player he’s been touted as being.
Head coach Hue Jackson would appear to like what he sees on the left side of the line:
Jackson on what he’s seen from Bitonio-Corbett on left side of line after 4 straight practices: “That is the start to something good.”— Andrew Gribble (@Andrew_Gribble) 4 August 2018
It’s quite the change from last years offensive line but, let’s be honest, one that needs to be made now that Joe Thomas has gone. With a new set of running backs, receivers and quarterbacks who are all looking good to me and genuine reasons to be excited about the 2018 season and beyond, if the OL doesn’t gel and work as a unit the skill groups could be the best in the league and still not get anything done when it comes to game time. This certainly is a huge decision for Todd Haley and Hue Jackson and could make or break Jackson’s contract in Cleveland.