The Cleveland Browns have released their first preseason depth chart. But be aware that the veteran starter is not really what it seems.
The Cleveland Browns have Austin Corbett listed as the starter at right guard on their initial unofficial depth chart. But since its release, backup center Eric Kush has taken most of the first team reps and seems to be emerging as the leader.
So, what gives? Is Austin Corbett the starter or not?
Welcome to the NFL preseason where nothing is what it seems. Yes, there are established starters. Nobody is questioning whether or not Baker Mayfield will start at quarterback. But when it comes to right guard, looks can be deceiving.
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The Browns have an idea of who Corbett is. The investment of a second round pick into Corbett means he will get the first opportunity to prove he can do the job or lose the job. Corbett needs to prove his worth in a game setting. Practice is great, but can he do it full go in front of thousands of people? That is the real question that must be answered.
The same question can be applied to Kalis. He spent all last season on the Browns practice squad. The Browns have a good idea of who he is. But can he do it in a game? How will he hold up under the pressure? Kalis has been known to lose his cool when confronted by fans.
Kalis and Corbett are known quantities, but neither are battle tested. The only player who is battle tested is Eric Kush. He has the most NFL experience of the three. As such, Kush is the fall back plan should Corbett fail to rise to the occasion. He is the plan should Kalis not put it all together in his third year on NFL practice rosters.
It should come as no surprise that Kush is the leader heading into Week 1 of the preseason. While the three are battling it out, Kush should be the starter for preseason opener for two reasons:
First, Kush is the best option to keep Baker Mayfield upright against the Washington Redskins first-team defense. Let’s face it, the first preseason game is meaningless. There is no need to risk an injury to the quarterback on one drive. Just put in the guy with the most experience, keep everyone safe for the season.
Second, Kush will allow Corbett and Kalis to maximize their playing time. For Corbett to prove he can win the job, he has to play in games. The same holds true for Kalis.
For them to play in the preseason opener, they will have to practice their positions with the other five offensive linemen who will be on the field at the same time. They will need to get their calls right. They will need to understand their steps and communication with those specific linemen.
Corbett may be the leader per the depth chart but still not start the preseason game. He may legitimately be the leader in the position battle and still not start the game. Truth is, Corbett needs to play as much as possible in the first game. The same is true for Kalis.
The staff needs the film on Corbett and Kalis to figure out how they can improve. They need to address whatever technique concerns, assignment concerns and communication issues arise to prepare them for the long haul of the season.
Kush does not need the playing time for the staff to get a sense of who he is. It is Corbett and Kalis who need the playing time. Kush is also the best option to protect Mayfield for one or possibly two drives in the game. It allows Kalis and Corbett to learn their lessons against backups. When they prove they can beat the backups, then they will get a shot at the first-team.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the veteran is leading the right guard position battle because he starts the first preseason game. It simply means that Kush is the best known of the three. The real indicator of who is leading the battle will be Week 3 of the preseason.