Cleveland Browns Left Guard, Eric Steinbach, will likely retain his starting position this season, however, it is also likely that he will see less snaps throughout the year.
Very little can be gleaned from the ongoing minicamp at this early juncture, but it is one piece of the puzzle. Steinbach has not been seeing much action at on-field workouts thus far. Instead, the reps at the left guard position have largely been taken by Rex Hadnot and Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack. Further, Mangini has made no secret that he wants to increase the size of the offensive line. Eric has made some jokes publicly about Steinbach needing to eat some more pasta, for example.
Let’s face it; the days of offensive linemen under 300 pounds are virtually over. Speed and footwork are still important, but the trend in the NFL is to favour raw brute strength and size up front. There are only a handful of starting offensive linemen in the entire League who are under 300 LBs. Steinbach is one of them. Eric was well under that weight until he began a regiment recently to gain some pounds. He is currently listed at 295, however, that may be a stretch as he was 285 not that long ago. In any event, 295 pounds when you are around 6 feet tall is one thing, but Eric is 6 feet 6 inches. Spreading 295 pounds over that frame makes him down right skinny for a guard.
Hadnot, on the other hand, who took the starting reps at minicamp before Womack, is 320 pounds and 6 feet 2 inches tall. He does not have Eric’s quickness and footwork, but on third down and short yardage, he would be preferred to Steinbach. The same goes for Womack (acquired as a free agent from the Seahawks), who is a hefty 6 feet 4 inches tall and almost 330 pounds. Journeyman John St. Clair, signed as a free agent from the Bears, is 315 pounds and 6 feet 5 inches tall. What Hadnot, Womack and St. Clair lack in terms of dexterity they make up for with their power, particularly in situations like 3rd down and 3.
All of these guys are experienced; for that we are fortunate. Steinbach is entering his 7th pro season; Hadnot his 6th; and Womack and St. Clair are seasoned veterans. And they all remain durable. Steinbach played in 14 games last season for the Browns; Hadnot in 15 games for the Browns; Womack in 15 games for the Seahawks; and St. Clair in 16 games for the Bears. Womack and St. Clair are especially versatile in that they can play more than one position on the offensive line (in fact, Womack could play every position except Center). It should not be assumed that Womack will play most snaps on the right side because of the loss of Kevin Shaffer to the Bears. Besides, “loss” is a misnomer when it comes to Shaffer. He played badly last season as we got creamed on the right side.
We are not advocating for Steinbach to be moved. We cannot do so financially in any event because of his massive 7 year, $50 million contract from two seasons ago. That number makes Hadnot (with his two- year deal from March 2008 after playing with the Dolphins) and Womack and St. Clair (with their short-term contracts) look like garage sale specials.
We hope that Steinbach maintains his Pro Bowl form, but he will likely do so with less playing time under Mangini. We get the impression that Mangini’s number one priority is to strengthen the offensive line in order to better protect our quarterbacks who were easy targets last season for blitzing defenders and to return to a more “smash-mouth” running game with Lewis and Harrison, and to a lesser extent while he gets his feet wet, Davis. Size seems to be Mangini’s foremost criterion in evaluating how best to achieve that priority. Not the best news for Steinbach. Only time will tell if it is the best news for the Browns. Looking at the great offensive lines of the past, including the Cowboys of the 1990s, we are not complaining.