Cleveland Browns: Where do the Browns go from here at left tackle?

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas was injured Sunday. What are the options for the Browns moving forward?

Inconceivable! The unthinkable has occurred. Cleveland Browns iron man Joe Thomas was injured on Sunday. His injury is a major blow to the “development” of any Browns quarterback.

Before Thomas’ injury, quarterbacks had no worries about their blind side. Joe Thomas defined the left tackle position. His technique is flawless and a model for every other left tackle in the league. His locker room presence as a teammate was the glue that held the Browns together. He will be sorely missed this season.

So, how do the Browns replace Joe Thomas?

First, there is no replacing Thomas. He did so many things well that the Browns offense will have to allocate more resources to do the job that he did by himself. With Thomas it was assured the left side was securely blocked. Now the Browns will have to incorporate protecting the blind side as a part of the game plan.

Second, the Browns will need to make schematic changes to address a weak blind side moving forward.

As if were not hard enough for people to get open, the Browns will now have to keep tight ends and running backs in protection to help with the left side. This will mean less receiving options for quarterbacks moving forward. It will also mean that tight ends (who are starting to block better) and running backs (who block well) will need to step up to protect the quarterback. With less receivers in routes, there will be an added impetus for those receivers to get open.

The injury to Thomas puts added pressure on the receivers to play better. They need to get open quicker, gain separation and find holes in the defense. In short, it is time for receivers (including tight ends and running backs) to grow up a little faster.

Third, the Browns need to find someone to actually play the left tackle position. There are several options available but none that look particularly inviting.

Roderick Johnson was drafted by the Browns in the fifth round of the 2017 draft. If there were a mold for creating a perfect physical specimen of a left tackle, it would be Johnson.

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The drawback for Johnson is body control. Like most linemen coming out of college, he needs time to learn the proper techniques to play the position. Like Shon Coleman, Johnson is a perfect fit for the role he was drafted to play but needs time to grow into the role.

Unfortunately, his year of learning from Joe Thomas was cut short when he injured his knee in the final preseason game against the Chicago Bears. There have been no updates on his status since then.

Before he could play he would need to be designated to return to practice then designated as eligible to return. Chances are he spends the year on IR.

The next option would be Zach Banner. Banner was a right tackle at USC. His weight was a concern for him in the past and may preclude him from playing left tackle. Per his draft profile, Banner is a run blocking specialist who may best fit at right guard. However, Banner’s size and skill set make him an ideal right tackle.

Right tackle is currently held down by Coleman. If Banner were to play, Coleman would probably need to move to left tackle to keep Banner from being a liability on the left side.

Another option would be to play Spencer Drango at left tackle. Drango was drafted in the 2016 NFL Draft. Coming out of Baylor he played left tackle. His claim to fame was that he never allowed a quarterback sack his senior year.

Of course, Baylor ran the Air Raid offense with their own twist to throw the ball as quickly as possible. So, Drango’s pass blocking ability may be overrated.

He is better suited to play right guard and has primarily played that position this season. The signing of Kevin Zeitler should tell Browns fans all they need to know about how the team feels about Drango. A cursory look at the coaches’ film from Sundays game shows Drango getting overpowered by bull rushes and beaten on speed rushes.

If the Browns stick with Drango, they may be better served moving Coleman to left tackle to play Drango at right tackle.

Moving Coleman to left tackle may be the best option anyway. If the Browns view Coleman as the long-term answer at left tackle, then they should make the move now. His pass blocking has steadily improved this season. Moving him to left tackle would be a tough transition but workable given the Browns upcoming bye week (after the London game).

Such a move would also open up the right tackle position for Drango or Banner to take over. Coleman is the best pass blocker of the three and Drango or Banner could learn on the job while contributing to the running game.

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It will be interesting to see how this plays out.