Cleveland Browns will have an extreme lack of depth at offensive guard in 2020.
The Cleveland Browns knew they needed to make moves on the offensive line this offseason after the unit was arguably the biggest weakness for the Browns in 2019. They made several moves fortifying the unit, including adding several depth players.
However, that depth has all but disappeared for the Browns, especially at guard. Entering training camp, the Browns had five guards on the roster. However, before they even officially start practicing, the Browns only have two guards remaining on the active roster.
The reason why Cleveland’s offensive guard depth has disappeared is because of the NFL and NFLPA’s COVID-19 opt-out provision. Three of Cleveland’s guards have decided to opt-out for the season: Drew Forbes, Colby Gossett and Malcolm Pridgeon. Gossett opted out on Tuesday and Pridgeon opted out Thursday.
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With those three guards deciding to opt-out, the Browns are left with Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller, who entered camp as the starting guards, as the only two guards remaining on the active roster. This has is going to cause the Browns to make serious decisions about the position.
Other than Bitonio, Teller, J.C. Tretter, Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills, the Browns only have six offensive linemen remaining on the active roster: three tackles and three centers. The Browns will likely have to experiment with these six players to see if they have the versatility to play guard.
Two players who stand out as players who may have the versatility are Chris Hubbard and Nick Harris. Although Hubbard has been an offensive tackle his entire seven-year career, his size is better suited for guard. Harris was drafted as a center coming out of college, but with Tretter as the starting center for the next couple of years, Harris learning guard will be his quickest way to playing time.
The Browns may view Hubbard as their swing-tackle, but roles will have to change as Cleveland’s roster continues to evolve. Hubbard may have struggled at tackle last season for the Browns, but perhaps his athleticism and size will make him a better fit at guard.
There is also plenty of questions about Harris’ size, as the 6-foot-1 and 302 pound rookie is undersized for an NFL offensive lineman. However, he showed in college he excels at gaining leverage and his quickness allows him to create movement up front. In Cleveland’s wide zone rushing scheme, Harris’ ability to move laterally would help him fit at guard.
Hubbard and Harris are likely going to compete with Teller for the starting right guard job. So whoever does not win the starting job will end up adding being the backup at guard to their roles during the season. However, 11 offensive linemen is simply not enough for camp, so the Browns are going to have to make an addition or two before camp practices start.
There are some free agent options for the Browns to consider, including Josh Kline. Kline made 13 starts for the Minnesota Vikings in 2019, so Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski is familiar with what the 30-year-old can bring to the table. For a team who is desperate at offensive guard, signing a player who the head coach is familiar with could be a perfect fit for the Browns.
Cleveland have other free agent options at guard, including Ronald Leary and Earl Watford. The Browns could also consider Alex Boone, who is attempting a NFL comeback and has said he would love to play for the Browns, even as a backup.
The Browns may not be hurting on the starting offensive line anymore, but their depth has been decimated the past few weeks. With practices starting soon, the Browns will have to make decisions quickly to fix their depth issue.