Cleveland Browns: Zach Banner shows potential

(Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Browns may have found a future starter along the offensive line in backup tackle Zach Banner.

The Cleveland Browns offensive line came crumbling down last week against the Detroit Lions, but one bright spot was the play of rookie Zach Banner.

Already short left tackle Joe Thomas, the Browns lost right tackle Shon Coleman to a concussion during the game against Detroit. The play of Spencer Drango has helped plug the hole left by Thomas. However, it was the play of Banner as a fill in for Coleman that should get Browns fans excited.

When Banner was claimed off waivers from the Indianapolis Colts earlier this year, his presence allowed the Browns to put fifth-round draft pick Roderick Johnson on injured reserve. Johnson was a left tackle project for offensive line coach Bob Wylie this season. But a season ending knee injury forced a change of plans. Enter Banner.

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Coming out of the University of Southern California, the book on Banner was that he had superior run blocking skills, but his pass blocking skills would need to improve. The Colts took a chance on him as a right tackle with the hopes that he could continue his run blocking prowess while adding pass blocking to his game. The Colts saw him as an eventual starter at right tackle.

The numbers game caused the Colts to cut Banner and their loss was the Browns gain. Through the preseason, Banner excelled at pass blocking at right tackle but struggled in the run game. The Browns hoped to bring in Banner, help him to control his weight, improve his quickness and eventually have a backup tackle this year and an option in the unlikely scenario that Thomas missed a game. Banner was finally pressed into action when Coleman sustained a concussion.

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Banner’s play against the Lions was consistent with his play it the preseason. He did a good job with pass blocking but struggled with run blocking.

Banner’s struggles are typical of rookie offensive lineman. Although he came out of a pro-style offense while at USC, his massive size and superior strength allowed him to excel despite poor technique. Now that he is in the NFL he will have to correct a few things.

First, Banner bends at the waist thereby displacing his center of gravity. This makes it easy for defensive linemen to get him off-balance and get around him. Fortunately for Banner, he is a large person, even for NFL circles, to get around.

Second, Banner struggles with upper body play given his height. Bending at the waist causes him to be off-balance on this punch, thereby limiting its effectiveness. Put another way, if Banner were to integrate his lower body play into his upper body (transferring power) he would be more effective. He is adequate at neutralizing defenders, but he could benefit from taking the action to defenders more.

The same problem hurts him in run blocking. His sheer size and bending at the waist prevents an adequate transfer of power from his lower body into his upper body. When Banner figures out the proper way to use leverage he, like Coleman, will begin to run over people in the NFL.

But, for now, Banner struggles with the same technical aspects of his game that Coleman struggled with earlier this season. There is no reason to believe that the magic man Wylie cannot get Banner up to speed with more playing time and attention to technique.

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Reports are that Coleman will play against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday in Cleveland. This may push Banner to the bench. However, a longterm scenario the Browns should explore is Coleman at left tackle with Banner at right tackle. Letting Banner play through his rookie struggles will yield better longterm fruit than other options on the roster.