The Cleveland Browns officially ended starting left guard Eric Steinbach’s season yesterday by placing him on the Injured Reserve list. He was entering his fifth year with the team after signing as a free agent in 2007.
Steinbach had missed a total of two games with the Browns until now, and was named a pro-bowl alternate for the 2008 season. The Browns newly minted franchise player, left tackle Joe Thomas, has not played next to another guard his entire career. Now one of the Browns’ strengths is supposedly becoming a question mark.
OK, I understand the loss of Eric Steinbach is not a good thing, but let’s not jump off any bridges just yet…
As I said after Billy Yates retired, “If you had to pick one unit on the Cleveland Browns deep enough to take a hit, you’d pick the offensive line.” That is still true.
In fact, Yates played on the right side of the line last season. The left side is considerably stronger. Whoever the Browns eventually tab as Steinbach’s replacement will be sandwiched between two pro-bowlers in Thomas and Alex Mack. That should ease the learning curve.
Now, it’s been said Steinbach’s key attribute is his quickness, which allows the Browns to swing him around on counter plays and sweeps; plays that helped Peyton Hillis enjoy a breakout season. But the reason Steinbach is so agile is because he’s small. At 295 pounds he is the lightest listed starting guard in the AFC North.
LG Ben Grubbs – 310 lbs
RG Marshal Yanda – 315 lbs
LG Chris Kemoeatu – 344 lbs
RG Ramon Foster – 325 lbs
LG Nate Livings – 332 lbs
RG Bobbie Williams – 345 lbs
Could it be that Steiny is the exception to the rule, a freak of nature, or is he a dying breed?
How quickly we forget that his weight was a cause for concern just a few years ago. Former coach Eric Mangini preferred stouter, psychical guards (as most NFL camps do), and frequently threatened to bench Steinbach.
The current administration has also made one thing abundantly clear: We are getting younger.
Steinbach is one of just nine current Browns over the age of 30. Offensive lineman do tend to last longer than the skill positions, but still, might he be arriving at the downside of his career? Missing a full 16-game season could certainly be considered an indicator.
Steinbach also only has two years remaining on his contract after this season. Perhaps the Browns don’t see him in their long terms plans anyway?
They drafted a developmental lineman in Jason Pinkston in April. They drafted a young guard last season in Shawn Lauvao. They traded a future draft pick for Jon Greco, who is 26 years old. And, they were just awarded former Ravens offensive lineman Oniel Cousins, who is 27 years old.
Losing a solid (not impact) player is something every single successful NFL team has to overcome, and injuries like this are occurring all over the league right now. But all is not lost.
The Browns have added tons of new, young parts into their offensive line rotation in a year where they are stressing youth. And Steinbach, while consistent, is an older player who is small for his position and lines up between two big, young, pro-bowlers.
If you think about it, things could be worse.
Also just for fun, I raided every other team depth chart on espn.com, and found the following very short list of guards (starter or scrub) listed under 300 lbs. I understand these depth charts are subject to change and hard to update, but I still think its interesting that out of approximately 190 total players, only 13 fit the sub-300 bill:
- Bill Nagy, Dallas Cowboys 1st string LG – 299 lbs
- Andrew Jackson, Atlanta Falcons, 2nd string LG – 299 lbs
- John Gianninoto, Carolina Panthers 4th string RG – 297 lbs
- Eric Steinbach, Cleveland Browns 1st string LG – 295 lbs
- Dylan Gandy, Detroit Lions 3rd string RG – 295 lbs
- Jamey Richard, Indianapolis Colts 3rd string LG – 295 lbs
- Butch Lewis, Kansas City Chiefs 2nd string LG – 295 lbs
- Ryan Lilja, Kansas City Chiefs 1st string RG – 290 lbs
- Cooper Carlisle, Oakland Raiders 1st string RG – 295 lbs
- John Malecki, Pittsburgh Steelers 2nd string RG – 298 lbs
- Nick Howell, San Francisco 49ers 3rd sting LG – 295 lbs
- Jake Scott, Tennessee Titans 1st string RG – 292 lbs
- Kory Lichtensteiger, Washington Redskins 1st string LG – 292 lbs