Nov 18, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Cleveland Browns guard Shawn Lauvao (66) – center Alex Mack (55) – quarterback Brandon Weeden (3) and guard John Greco (77) on the line scrimmage during the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Browns 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
One of the areas that the Browns needed to address in camp was their backup center job while the main question remains who and where the guards are going to play. At center, Alex Mack has not missed a game since he was drafted and that is a trend that hopefully continues, but even if he has to come out for a play, they need to have someone who can get the ball to Brandon Weeden. With the guards, John Greco played left guard with Jason Pinkston playing right guard with the first team, which is somewhat surprising development given their skillsets. The Browns approach to the backup center is something that is important but hopefully will ultimately not matter while the guard question is far more substantive and it appears as though the Browns might want Greco to play left guard and only left guard.
The Browns have Braxton Cave as an undrafted free agent trying to land on the squad out of Notre Dame but he is not ideal as he does not appear able to play anything else and versatility is important with backup offensive linemen. Cave is certainly still in the mix but the Browns, in what appears to be an attempt to save valuable roster space, the Browns have used the last two days of practice to have John Greco and Shawn Lauvao take snaps as the second team center. The other question that might have some light shed on it was the guard situation.
The Browns have a number of young linemen they would like to be able to carry on their 53 man roster and not risk having poached as they try to sneak them onto the practice squad. Some of these could include Garrett Gilkey, Ryan Miller, and Chris Faulk who are all young guards with the latter two also being able to potentially help as a backup for Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle. If they can get someone who is definitely going to stay on the roster like Greco or Lauvao, who are both in their top six along the offensive line at this point, they can afford to keep their young guys on the roster and continue to develop them for the future without being in trouble if an injury occurs at center.
After the starting five linemen, most teams tend to carry around eight offensive linemen on the team and activate seven of those on game day, so roster space is at a premium. If Faulk ends up on injured reserve or they try to move him to the practice squad, the linemen making the team would include Joe Thomas, Mitchell Schwartz, Jason Pinkston, Greco, Lauvao, Mack, Miller, and Gilkey. As a result, the team has to have players that can fill in competently fill in the offensive line should injuries occur. That means they need a second player that can snap and someone who can kick over to left tackle. At this point, Schwartz is likely to move over to left tackle should Thomas go down for some reason with likely Miller going in at right tackle. If Greco or Lauvao can snap, if Mack goes down, the interior of the offensive line is some combination of Greco, Lauvao, and Pinkston, which would not be a bad setup if one of those two can snap and block.
The other development that is worth noting and could be important going forward is the fact that Greco played left guard with Pinkston at right guard. Based on his experience and skillset, Pinkston has been best suited to play left guard because he can pass block but is not an overpowering run blocker to this point in his career. Although not a hard and fast rule, teams usually want more power from the right guard spot to create running lanes as well as hold up against opposing nose guards and while Pinkston could become that guy, the blood clot hurt his ability to add strength and increase his power in the offseason.
While the Browns could go out in practice tomorrow and move Greco to the right side, if they want him only as their left guard, that might be an indication that Lauvao has an advantage in that battle to be the other guard. His lateral agility has been less than ideal and he has had some issues working in space but he has the power to open up holes in the running game and can hold up against power. Based purely on skillsets of a power based offense and which fits better, Lauvao might be getting a slight nod at this point in the process. The competition is by no means over and things could change dramatically, but that is something to keep an eye on as camp continues. Pinkston has talent and is certainly worth keeping for fantastic depth and someone who still has upside, but right guard is asking him to do some things he has not shown to be great.
Certainly, having Greco only play left guard would simplify his workload as far as what he needs to work to master in addition to perhaps getting some more looks at center in the future. Ultimately, Greco makes the most sense as a left guard over the length of his stay with the Browns with the new contract extension and the Browns are probably going to work to get a bulldozer at right guard, which is what Miller, Gilkey, and Faulk may be best suited to do.
It would be fantastic if the Browns can get either Greco or Lauvao to be a functional center in the absence of Mack. Hopefully, these guys will get a look at preseason and Pinkston may well get a look there at some point too. Saving roster space is always a good move and enabling them to keep talent over need is beneficial going forward. Greco stands out as the eventual left guard, so the Browns may just be entrenching him there now with the right guard spot still to be determined for the present and the future. It might be a slight advantage for Lauvao given their power running style, but unless Lauvao or Pinkston steps up in a big way, both may ultimately be depth down the road behind a bigger, more powerful player that is hopefully already on the roster.