The Cleveland Browns are built this season to do some serious damage in the NFL. The franchise is looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but has not sufficiently addressed one huge problem.
The Cleveland Browns have put forth a roster this season that could quite possibly be the most talented in the NFL. The roster is definitely the most talented the Browns have hosted since the franchise returned to the NFL in 1999. However, the team has two glaring holes that could rip down any success the team will be facing.
Most Browns fans should already know what the Browns Achilles’ heel is this season: the right side of the offensive line. A year ago the right side of the offensive line featured a top-five offensive guard in the NFL in Kevin Zeitler and a sub-par offensive tackle in Chris Hubbard.
Hubbard allowed 8.5 sacks in 2018, which is unacceptable from a single starting offensive lineman. The Browns obviously saw some potential in him when they signed Hubbard away from the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Hopefully this season he can show why they signed him to a five-year, $37.5 million contract, but that seems unlikely after last season.
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According to spotrac.com, if the Browns cut Hubbard they would take on $6.9 million in dead cap for 2019 and $2.4 million in 2020 while only saving $350K in cap space. Due to this, he will most likely be on the Browns roster for 2019. However, cutting Hubbard post-June 1 in 2020 will give the Browns $6.5 million in cap space, and the team will only take on $800K of dead cap in 2020 and $1.6 million in 2021.
Due to his contract, Hubbard is not the long-term solution at right tackle. If anything, his contract hinders the Browns from obtaining a quality starter at the position. He alone is not the problem on the offensive line. The right guard spot which was opened when Zeitler was traded remains wide open.
According to Nick Shook of the Browns’ official website, the Browns right guard position is the only open position for a training camp battle. It seems to be between former second round pick Austin Corbett and free agent acquisition Eric Kush. Kush has been a career backup on three different teams, with the Browns being his fourth. He has only started 12 games in his five-years career, 11 of those with the Bears the past two seasons. Corbett has yet to start a game in the NFL after being on the bench his rookie year.
Neither Kush or Corbett seems to be a future quality starter for the Browns at right guard. You have to imagine that if Corbett was living up to his potential that the job wouldn’t be open right now.
Having those two large holes on the offensive line could cause serious problems for the Browns offense. Opposing defenses could get to quarterback Baker Mayfield fast and often by attacking the right side of the offensive line. Lack of experience on the right side will make it harder for the offensive line to pick up pressures, stunts, and twists.
You could see defensive ends drop back into coverage versus the left side of the offensive line, making left tackle Greg Robinson’s life a lot easier this year. However, the counter to that would be bringing a blitz off the right side to confuse Corbett/Kush and Hubbard. The Browns would most likely adjust to teams doing this with half slide protections, mainly sliding right.
If the Browns are forced to slide primarily right in pass protection it will leave Robinson on an island by himself back side. This would also leave Mayfield to be stuck with the task of dodging blitzes from his blind side. The Browns success as an offense will only go as far as the offensive line play lets them go. Head coach Freddie Kitchens has shown he can be a creative play caller and make the lives of offensive linemen a lot easier, so the group will have to rely on him as well.
Optimumscouting.com ranked the Browns new offensive line coach, James Campen, as the 14th best offensive line coach in the NFL in 2018, which is a vast improvement over Bob Wylie, who ranked 27th. The rankings were done by an impressive formula made by Justis Mosqueda, who wrote the piece.
In conclusion, the Browns have a serious Achilles’ heel that needs to be addressed. It seems that the way to address this will be through coaching and scheme, since there is no more work for John Dorsey to be able to find replacements. Kitchens and Campen have a difficult task ahead, but have both shown the ability to solve the problem. With Campen as the offensive line coach, I’d be optimistic in Hubbard and Corbett’s development.