Cleveland Browns roster spots will be tight for offensive linemen

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 3: The Cleveland Browns offense lines up behind JC Tretter #64 in the first quarter of a game against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High on November 3, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 3: The Cleveland Browns offense lines up behind JC Tretter #64 in the first quarter of a game against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High on November 3, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

Suddenly the Cleveland Browns O-Line is deep after signing tackle Jack Conklin and restructuringChris Hubbard’s contract to allow him to remain on the team.

After adding a stud right tackle in Jack Conklin, and restructuring the contract of Chris Hubbard, the Cleveland Browns look like they have a good group everywhere except left tackle. There is room for a player to claim a starting job, but there are quality players adding dept as well.

Fixtures on the line are Joel Bitonio at left guard, J.C. Tretter at center and newcomer Jack Conklin at right tackle. At right guard, the incumbent is Wyatt Teller, who stepped in for Eric Kush and started nine games and was in on 54 percent of the offensive snaps last year.

During that time, he gave up only one sack and was judged by Pro Football Focus to be a superior pass blocker but less effective against the run. Overall he was graded as the 55th guard in the NFL, which is to say he was below average but still starting caliber. The Browns could go to war with Teller.

There are at least two other candidates for the position. Young Drew Forbes was drafted in the sixth round and caught the eye of several observers including Dan Justik of Dawg Pound Daily who suggested he could become the biggest surprise among the 2019 Browns rookie class.

It didn’t work out for him, however, as he injured a knee which kept him out of all but two games last year.  John Dorsey brought him back from Injured Reserve in November using a new rule that allows two players to be reinstated to the active roster, although coach Freddie Kitchens did not take the hint. The season for Mr. Forbes consisted of only nine special teams snaps for the entire season. It appears that Forbes wound up in Freddie’s enormous dog house, along with Rashard Higgins, David Njoku, Damion Ratley, and a few others.

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The other possibility is Chris Hubbard, who chose to stay in Cleveland, accepting a major pay cut to stay. It was not a happy situation to accept millions of dollars less salary, but Hubbard and his agent were realistic about his situation.

Hubbard is now thought of as an underperforming right tackle, and this is perhaps too narrow of a view. With the Steelers, he was used as an extra tight end and played all five positions on the offensive line, not just right tackle. Listed at only 295 pounds, he doesn’t match up to the position.

An undersized lineman makes much more sense at center or guard. Likely Hubbard would perform well if he ever needs to go in for Tretter. Hubbard is one of those guys who understands the paybook inside out and backward and would be an effective signal-caller for the O-Line. In fact, it wouldn’t be a bit surprising to see him join the coaching ranks when he retires as a player.

It’s widely believed that the opening day starter is not yet on the Browns roster. Kendall Lamm is the nominal incumbent. Lamm played well but was frequently injured and was only used in 82 offensive snaps last year. That’s okay for a backup, but the Browns will look for a full-time player.

A trade for Trent Williams is a possibility except that he and his agent have to realize he is not going to get a quarterback’s contract to play tackle. In addition, Washington has to realize that they will not be rewarded with a  big draft pick for creating this messy situation for the star lineman.

More likely, the Browns will draft a left tackle because there are several good ones in this year’s draft.

Needless to say, there is almost no chance that anyone can beat out left guard Joel Bitonio, center J.C. Tretter or right tackle Conklin.

The bench would thus consist of Forbes, Hubbard, and Lamm, leading room for one more lineman, assuming they choose to roll with nine linemen on the 53 player roster. Candidates for the last position could include former Ohio State Buckeye  Malcolm Pridgeon; Willie Wright, who was on the Browns practice squad last year; or Colby Gossett, who started four games for Arizona in 2018.

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Of course, there will also be a few undrafted free agents who find their way into summer camp this year.  All in all, it will be intense competition to make the Browns’ roster as a backup offensive lineman.