As we near the second pre-season game (1st at home this year) against the lowly Lions, it appears that the Browns’ starting offensive line for this season is becoming solidified.
The injury to Rex Hadnot likely means that we will have:
Left Tackle – Pro Bowler Joe Thomas – 24 years young; 6 foot 6; 312-315 pounds
Left Guard – Eric Steinbach – 29 years; 6 foot 6; a slender 295 pounds (maybe closer to 300 after a few extra lard dinners provided by Mangini)
Right Guard – Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack – 30 years old; 6 foot 4; a hefty 330 pounds; acquired by the Browns this off-season as a free agent from the Seattle Seahawks
Right Tackle – John St. Clair – 32 years old; a daunting 6 foot 6 and 320 pounds; acquired by the Browns this off-season as a free agent from the Chicago Bears; longtime journeyman of the Bears’ offensive line; replacing the overpaid and underachieving Kevin Schaffer, now departed, who was responsible for one of the League’s most imbalanced O-lines last season.
What is not certain is who will start in the middle at Center – Hank “the tank” Fraley or our first round Draft pick Alex Mack from Cal (21st overall). Hank is nearly 32 years old while Alex is the baby of the crew at 23; Hank is slightly shorter and a sausage lighter than Alex (Mack is 6 foot 4 and 311 pounds).
GIVE US YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS – WHO SHOULD START AT CENTER?
Mack and Fraley have been sharing rep time almost evenly. Thomas and Steinbach of course are used to each other. Womack and St. Clair are both veterans who seem to be getting along like a house on fire.
It may be that Mangini wants to capitalize on the strenghts of Mack and Fraley and use them both in certain situations. Fraley is a guy who is very hard to hate, but it is time that we recognize that he has lost a step or two. There is no question that our quarterbacks were blitzed very successfully last season, and that a greater proportion of the pressure came up the middle through “the tank” and from the right side. How much of that is directly attributable to Fraley is hard to say.
It is always unnerving to have a rookie at the helm snapping the football, but we have seen first-hand that veterans make stupid mistakes as well – Fraley’s holding penalty which negated points in the pre-season game against the Pack is a recent example of that.
In 2008 at Cal, Mack allowed zero QB sacks in nearly 400 pass plays. The scouting report before the Draft was that Alex has great hands and uses his guards very well to fend off blitzing opponents. Of course, his competition at the NFL level will be against bigger and stronger defenders; and handling a bull rush from some of the League’s biggest nosetackles will be a challenge for a rookie. Practising against Rogers will help prepare Alex for the job.
On balance, we would start Mack. It would be a shame to leave on the sidelines a player who has been accepted by virtually everyone who has expressed an informed opinion on the issue as by far and away the best Center in the Draft this year.