Cleveland Browns: 3 position battles to watch vs. Tampa Bay
By Thomas Moore
Cameron Erving is the unquestioned starter at the position, but still needs as much work as he can possibly get before things get real.
Complicating the issue is that Erving missed a week of camp with an arm injury and is now battling a bum ankle. The second-year center reportedly hurt his ankle on Tuesday during a joint practice with the Buccaneers and then left practice early.
Head coach Hue Jackson said on Wednesday that he “thinks” that Erving will play tonight, but executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown painted a slightly different picture on Thursday.
“We’re hopeful and are going to be smart about Cam’s ankle in monitoring him. But he’s a tough guy that wants to be out there every snap,” Brown told ohio.com. “Hue was smart yesterday in kind of pulling him back so he doesn’t do further damage in a practice setting.”
If Erving is limited tonight, or tweaks his ankle and has to leave earlier than expected, it will be interesting to see what the Browns do.
Garth Gerhart is currently listed as the backup center ahead of Mike Matthews. Both are undrafted free agents — Gerhart in 2012 and Matthews this year — so in some ways they are interchangeable and a drop off from Erving. Just how steep of a drop off, though, is the big question.
If Gerhart or Matthews don’t show enough tonight or in the final preseason game next week, the Browns could turn to right guard John Greco as a backup option. Greco filled that role in 2014 when Alex Mack was injured, but only as an emergency solution to finish out the game.
Having Greco as the backup presents the same problem now that it did two years ago. If the Browns move Greco to center it creates a ripple effect as they then need someone to fill in at guard. Austin Pasztor has played guard before, but he is currently listed as the starting right tackle, so if you move him over it impacts a third position on the line.
We’re going out on a (very short) limb here, but the thought of one injury disrupting 60 percent of the starting offensive line is not something that Jackson is eager to embrace.
While Erving should be fine for the start of the regular season, having a viable backup option that is not disruptive to the rest of the line would be nice, leaving the Browns hoping that Gerhart or Matthews make the most out of these final days.
Next: Inside Linebacker