Cleveland Browns Training Camp Preview: OL Part 2, Left Guard
By Joel W. Cade
This is the second installment of a five-part training camp preview of the Cleveland Browns offensive line. In Part 2, we will look at the left guard position and a candidate for the interior swing offensive line position.
The Offense: Hue Jackson ran a power run, short passing scheme in Cincinnati. This is in stark contrast to the zone run, vertical passing attack the Cleveland Browns implemented last season. This season the Browns will be more aggressive in the running game, attacking the defense.
A big part of the running attack will be pulling linemen. The position that does more pulling and kicking out at the point of attack than any other on the offensive line is the left guard. Left guards have a special place in my heart, especially ones named Joel.
Left Guard: The left guard must be able to play with quickness, agility and power at the point of attack. A left guard will often pull down a line of scrimmage and kick out a defensive end, outside linebacker or move into the second level for an inside linebacker. This diverse assignment in the run game means the guard must have agility and lateral movement.
These abilities are usually measured in the combine’s short shuttle drill. Today’s defensive tackles are 300 pounds and explosive off the ball. The left guard must also have solid strength and footwork in the passing game. He must be able to hold opposing defensive tackles on the line of scrimmage to keep the pocket from collapsing. A good left guard makes for an effective running game.
Joel Bitonio: Joel Bitonio benefited from playing between All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas and Pro-Bowl center Alex Mack. Sandwiched between two of the league’s best offensive linemen helped Bitonio navigate his rookie season with ease. Last season was more of a challenge, as it was for the whole offensive line, with the loss of offensive line coach Andy Moeller.
Combine the loss of the OL coach with the ever-changing and overly predictable offensive scheme last season and it is easy to see why his production fell. He has yet to earn All-Pro or Pro-Bowl honors. However, he is viewed as one of the best young offensive linemen in the NFL.
Bitonio was drafted out of Nevada in the second round. He was brought in to zone block in Kyle Shanahan’s zone offense. He excelled in that role in his first season. He continued to play well initially until injuries and schematic difficulties cut into his production.
Next season he will be asked to pull and kick out at the point of attack. Bitonio has the agility and lateral movement, as evidenced by play in the zone run scheme, to move quickly while pulling and to finish at the point of attack.
He also excels in pass blocking. He is able to set his feet and keep the pocket from collapsing. Joel Bitonio’s skill set will allow him to succeed and thrive in the power run, quick passing offense. Expect him to make his first Pro Bowl next season.
After Bitonio, the left guard position is backed up by the interior swing offensive lineman. Fortunately for the Browns, with all the injuries last season, Austin Pasztor demonstrated that he can hold down both the left and right guard positions.
Austin Pasztor: Austin Pasztor was claimed off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars in September 2015. He played in every game for the Browns last season. Before coming to the Browns, Pasztor played three seasons for the Jaguars where he started 20 games in his final two seasons there. He played mainly right tackle.
Coming out of college, Pasztor had played mainly guard, starting three seasons for the Virginia Cavaliers. He has the body size and arm length of an offensive tackle. Undrafted in the 2012 NFL draft, Pasztor was signed as a free agent by the Minnesota Vikings as a guard. He was released at the final cut to the 53-man roster.
As Pasztor’s natural position is guard, he excelled last season in his role as a backup to Bitonio and John Greco. When the Browns switched offensive philosophies mid-season, Pasztor did an excellent job filling in at right tackle.
He stabilized the position when it became clear Cameron Erving was not ready. Pasztor is an excellent fit for the Browns current offense. Expect him to compete at right guard. If Greco maintains the position, Pasztor is an excellent candidate for the swing interior lineman role.
Next: Browns Training Camp Preview: OL Part 1, LT
Left guard is a position of strength for the Browns. Joel Bitonio is recognized as a rising star and backup Austin Pasztor has the length and size of a tackle playing an interior position. He did an excellent job in both run and pass blocking last season. With Bitonio in the fold, the left guard position is set.