Cleveland Browns Training Camp Preview : OL Part 1, Left Tackle

Sep 27, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns tackle Joe Thomas (73) at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 27, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns tackle Joe Thomas (73) at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

This is the first installment of a five-part training camp preview of the Cleveland Browns offensive line.  In Part 1, we will preview the left tackle position and the battle for the reserve swing tackle.

The Offense: The Cleveland Browns will have their sixth offensive coordinator in as many years. This year, new head coach Hue Jackson will bring his offensive scheme from Cincinnati. If the Cincinnati Bengals 2015 offense is any indication of the direction where the Browns are headed, the offensive line needs to shift from a zone run, vertical blocking scheme to a power run, short blocking scheme.

Left Tackle: The left tackle is the highest paid offensive line position in the league. The league values the left tackle for his ability to pass block. Protecting the quarterback’s blindside, the left tackle must block the opponent’s best pass rusher one-on-one consistently. As Michael Lewis relates in The Blind Side, a good left tackle is insurance for the most valuable investment any team will make: a franchise quarterback. Run blocking is not essential for the position, but it is a major bonus.

In Hue Jackson’s offense, the left tackle will be primarily a pass blocker, protecting the blind side of the quarterback. In the run game, the left tackle will occasionally double team at the point of attack and isolate on outside linebackers on runs away from the left side.

Joe Thomas: Lucky for the Cleveland Browns, they have a future Hall of Fame left tackle in Joe Thomas. Thomas is the definition of the left tackle position. He was recently named the league’s best offensive lineman in the NFL by Pro Football Focus and has numerous Pro Bowl appearances and All-Pro honors.

But there is one statistic that is truly amazing. Joe Thomas has not missed a single snap in his entire career. He has played through three torn MCLs. While playing healthy or injured, he has allowed a quarterback pressure in only one of every four games played. That is a truly amazing stat, even if he was healthy his entire career. To perform at that level while injured is beyond belief.

Joe Thomas will excel in Jackson’s system. He will not be asked to hold pass blocks as long as last year. He will be asked to make different types of blocks in the running game from years past. Adjusting to the new running attack should not prove difficult for Thomas. Expect him to play to typical Joe Thomas standard next season.

Beyond Thomas, the left tackle position looks sparse. There is no true defined backup. However, OTAs saw Michael Bowie taking reps at left tackle along with guard. He looks to be the swing tackle next season depending on the right tackle position battle.

Michael Bowie: Michael Bowie has been with the Browns for two seasons. He has been injured both years. Going into training camp last season, Bowie was primed to compete with Mitchell Schwartz for the right tackle position. The battle was short-lived as Schwartz beat out Bowie without it ever really developing into a competition.

Bowie is a small school product drafted in the seventh round out of Northeast Oklahoma State. He transferred there after being dismissed from Oklahoma State for violating team rules. He has the size and arm length to play tackle in the NFL. As a seventh-rounder, Bowie has been a project player his entire career. Heading into his fourth season in the league, this year will be a make or break year for him.

Bowie has played both tackle and guard positions during OTAs. Position versatility makes him a prime candidate for a backup swing role at tackle and guard. Given the position battles at right guard and right tackle, someone will have to get hurt for Bowie to make the team in a backup capacity. Otherwise expect Bowie to be released toward the end of training camp.

After Thomas, who has yet to miss a snap his entire professional career, the left tackle position looks shaky. Whoever loses the right tackle position battle will likely become the swing tackle, serving as Thomas’ backup.

Next: Chad Johnson talks about role with Browns

Heading into next season, the left tackle position is set with Joe Thomas. He not only locks down the left tackle position but also anchors the entire offensive line. With Thomas in the fold, the Browns are in good shape.