Will the Browns offensive line be ready for the regular season?
By Thomas Moore
The Cleveland Browns offensive line has not played together much in the preseason. Will that be a cause for concern when the regular season begins?
The Cleveland Browns put a lot of resources into the offensive line in the offseason.
The club signed Kevin Zeitler, the best right guard on the market, and center J.C. Tretter in free agency; signed left guard Joel Bitonio to a contract extension; and moved center Cameron Erving to the bench, where he can’t hurt anyone.
Add veteran left tackle Joe Thomas to the mix, and the only question mark left is at right tackle, but Shon Coleman is holding his own, for the most part, in his first season as a starter.
Related: PFF taps Cleveland’s offensive line as league’s second best
A stout offensive line, combined with running back Isaiah Crowell playing this season for a new contract, should help make things easier on rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer.
The one flaw in all this, however, is that an injury has Bitonio on the sidelines at least until the start of the regular season and Thomas has yet to play in an exhibition game as the Browns value having him for 16 regular season games, rather than two or three preseason games.
Because of the communication needed to operate effectively, the best way for a good offensive line to become a great one is by playing together, something that has not happened in great quantity for the Browns so far this summer.
Will that be a big deal come Sept. 10, one that will make Kizer regret that he won the starting quarterback role over Brock Osweiler and Cody Kessler?
It all depends on who you ask.
Head coach Hue Jackson is earning some worries lines over the issue, according to clevelandbrowns.com:
"“Oh, absolutely there is (some concern). There is no question about that. We have hopefully some practice days coming up before then. We probably won’t have played in a game together yet, but hopefully, we can practice together and have a semblance of what that is going to be like before we do get to Pittsburgh.”"
Thomas, on the other hand, said that the situation may not be as dire as it sounds, according to the team’s website:
"“For me, there is not a lot of concern because Joel and I have a good rapport going back from the years that we have played together and we did get quite a few snaps together in training camp. Also, Joel got a lot of snaps with the center (JC Tretter) so really from my standpoint, I don’t see that as an issue because he has gotten a lot of snaps with guys on both sides of him. That is the most important part of getting an offensive line to gel is just playing with the guys that are next to you or the guy that is next to you, and in Joel’s case, I think we do have enough reps with each other that that doesn’t concern me that he probably won’t play this week or next week.”"
Thomas makes a good point (as usual). Bitonio and Thomas have played 31 games next to each other, so when Bitonio comes back they should be good. Even if Bitonio is not ready for the opening game, veteran John Greco should be more than capable filling in at left guard.
Moving down the line, Tretter, Zeitler and Coleman have played next to each other through almost all of training camp and the preseason, so they should be getting in tune with each other.
The Browns are going to need the offensive line to be at its peak this season if they want to have any hope of success on offense. The best game plan for 2017 is to run the ball as much as possible, hit people as hard as you can on defense, and have get strong special teams play.
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The first part of that equation, of course, starts with the offensive line.
Jackson and Thomas currently differ on how important it is for the starters to have a high number of reps together when the regular season opens.
It shouldn’t take long for the Steelers to reveal who was right come Sept. 10.