Cleveland Browns: A rebuilt offensive line in 2016
By Joel W. Cade
Now that we answered the question of why the Browns needed to overhaul their offensive line, the question turns to how exactly did the Browns overhaul their offensive line in preparation for the 2016 season?
After letting Alex Mack leave, the only viable option at center is Cameron Erving. While it is true that Erving struggled at guard last season, it should be remembered that he was not drafted to play guard nor had he ever played it before. Guard and center are very different positions requiring a different skill set. The footwork is much different. If there is one area in which Erving struggled with at right guard, it was not so much strength as it was footwork.
A move back to center will help his career greatly. Erving is strong, agile and excelled in run blocking as a center. Erving played in a pro-style Power run offense at Florida State. He will now be put in a position where he excelled in college. In addition, he played at one of the best offensive line producing schools in the country. His college offensive line coach, Rick Trickett, literally wrote the book on offensive line play. Erving was an excellent pick in the 2015 draft. He is about as pro-ready as a center can be for the NFL. Expect him to excel this season after moving back to center. However, just in case, the Browns brought in Mike Matthews for insurance.
Right tackle was addressed by drafting Shon Coleman. The position of right tackle is primarily a run blocker. If one were to look up the qualities of an NFL right tackle, Shon Coleman would be it. He is big, long, strong, and excellent run blocker with a mean streak. He has room to improve in pass protection. But as a prototypical right tackle, Shon Coleman is just what the Browns ordered. He will be able to double team down with the guard and blow open holes. Coleman, if healthy, should start at right tackle day one.
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Others have been playing right tackle at OTAs. Spencer Drango has taken reps there; but, he is better suited for right guard (see below). With Coleman injured the real intrigued surrounds Alvin Bailey, Austin Pasztor, and Michael Bowie. The concern over Bowie is injuries. He has been injured the past two seasons. And he did not flash in his limited action. Austin Pasztor is an option for right guard. His play stabilized that position last season. This leaves Alvin Bailey. Joe Thomas recently mentioned Bailey as doing well in that role. Although he does admit it is early, Bailey is an excellent fit for the power-run scheme. His liabilities in pass protection and zone run blocking will be minimized in Hue Jackson’s offense.
It will be interesting to see how right tackle plays out. Regardless, the Power run scheme is better served with healthy Coleman, Bailey, Pasztor, Drango, or Bowie. The makeover at right tackle puts the Browns in position to move people off the ball at the point of attack. The pass blocking deficiencies of this group will be masked in a quick strike West Coast passing scheme.
Right guard is still a position that needs solidified. John Greco was a great fit in the zone blocking scheme. Although he is a little big for the scheme, he showed excellent quickness to gain the first step. This allowed him to stay on the field. However, he was exposed in the Power run scheme. Greco is not a “road-grader”. He is a more patient and quick blocker using hand placement and angles for success than an aggressive attacking power blocker. He is a great fit in a zone scheme. But he is not what Power run scheme needs.
However, the drafting of Spencer Drango goes a long way in addressing the need. Drango is a left tackle out of Baylor that is best suited for the right side of the offensive line. He is big, strong and an excellent run blocker who gets movement at the point of attack. However, his arms are short and has limited athleticism. His skill set screams right guard. His strengths as a run blocker can be used effectively at right guard and his weaknesses in pass protection can be hidden there as well. All in all, Drango is a project that could develop into a starter at right tackle or could make an impact at right guard. The fact that the Browns already have him working at right guard is a good sign.
The Browns effectively overhauled three of five members of an offensive line that could not make a Power run scheme work. Alex Mack is replaced by Cameron Erving who has a lot to prove and is returning to the position for which he was a first round draft pick. Shon Coleman was drafted to play right tackle. His skill set is perfect for a right tackle in a Power Run scheme. Alvin Bailey fits the right tackle mold as well. Spencer Drango was drafted as a left tackle whose skill set is typical of a right guard in the Power run scheme. Expect Austin Pasztor to challenge at right guard as well. John Greco may retain the position; but, as a nine-year veteran at age 31, he is not a long-term solution.
Next: Running backs are the Browns new focus
Quietly, the Browns have put the pieces in place to overhaul their offensive line from zone run to a Power run scheme in one offseason. Now it is up to the players to make it happen. If they can, the Browns will have an effective Power run scheme to compliment Jackson’s West Coast passing game.