Browns O-line coach Bill Callahan faces his old team
Washington’s loss has definitely been the Cleveland Browns gain, as Bill Callahan has gotten great results from the offensive line in the early going. Callahan was Washington’s interim head coach last season, and suffered through a 3-8 season after Jay Gruden went winless at 0-5.
Callahan also has a trip to the Super Bowl on his resume as head coach of the Oakland Raiders and was also the head coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. You may not hear his name on a daily basis, but make no mistake, he is one of the most highly respected offensive line coaches — and offensive coordinators — in the business.
The Browns are very fortunate to have a coach like this on staff. One of the many mistakes they made last year was to promote a rookie head coach, while having no one on staff with head coaching experience except special teams coach Mike Priefer, who was the interim head coach for one game in 2016. Callahan is just very, very valuable on so many levels.
It’s very, very early, but based on a small data sample, the entire offensive line has been nothing short of outstanding, and each position has shown improvement over last year, from tackle to tackle. First-round draft pick Jedrick Wills has stepped in immediately to replace Greg Robinson, who like Johnny Manziel was unable to play football and enjoy recreational chemicals at the same time.
Wills ranks fourth overall among the 2020 rookie class that everyone was ga-ga about this year at draft time, but third just in terms of pass-blocking. He has been a little bit banged up after getting knocked out of the opener with a badly bruised leg that initially was feared to be more serious.
Some analysts, mostly paranoid schizophrenics who somehow escaped from their asylums, were afraid that Wills would not know how to protect the quarterback’s blind side, because he switched from right tackle to left tackle in the pros, even though he protected left-hander Tua Tagovailoa’s blind side at Alabama. He will be fine, people.
Guard Joel Bitonio has been his usual Pro Bowl self and then some. An argument can be made that center J.C. Tretter saved the NFL season because, as president of the NFLPA, he insisted that the NFL establish a plan for coping with Covid-19, while the owners’ were planning to place players on the Non-Football-Injury (NFI) list without pay. He has also been nearly flawless on the field despite missing time rehabbing a knee following arthroscopic surgery.
Supposed journeyman Wyatt Teller has suddenly emerged as a force at right guard. He just seems to explode into his stance and defensive tackles fall down in front of him. Pro Football Focus has him rated as the No. 1 guard in the NFL after having him rated below average last season. Chris Hubbard, who struggled last year for the Browns, turned in a strong performance at right tackle last week substituting for an ailing Jack Conklin.
We simply did not see him play like that the past two seasons. Conklin is expected to return to action against Washington. If a preliminary Pro Bowl vote were held today and you used Pro Football Focus as your guide, Bitonio, Tretter, and Teller would all make the squad. Conklin and Hubbard grade significantly above the NFL average and Wills is a little below average.
The offensive line has some big bad dawgs this year. And very likely they will continue to get better under Callahan’s tutelage.
As an offensive line coach, Callahan is probably the equivalent of a 34th level black belt kung fu grandmaster. He’s that good. He knows the weaknesses of his former players from last year, and no doubt will teach his new pupils a few key techniques to use on the Washington pass rushers. Although the stereotype joke is “dumb offensive linemen,” that of course is not true. The martial arts analogy is very valid and years of studying technique and developing head smarts are a force multiplier. Thus, Browns linemen may have an edge because they have the master on their side now.
They may need the master on their side because they will be tested. Washington is not deep overall, but the front four is special. They are led by a rookie, Chase Young, from The Ohio State University. Though a rookie, Young can dial up the swim move, bull rush, spin move, speed rush, whatever he wants. This is not an ordinary opponent, but rather someone at a similar level as Myles Garrett.
Dealing with Young is a major headache for the O-Line this week. Montez Sweat is the other defensive end, and was the Washington first-round draft pick last season. They still have veteran Ryan Kerrigan in the rotation also. At defensive tackle, they have two more first-round picks: Da’Ron Payne (2018) and Jonathan Allen (2017). They also have Matt Ioannidis in the rotation, who has been an outstanding 3-4 defensive end and also plays 4-3 defensive tackle. They are very, very good, and very, very deep. They are going to bring it on every play, every down.
What is not going to work for Cleveland is the slow-developing pass plays with five-step drops or seven-step drops, and then waiting for OBJ to get open. There won’t be time for those plays to work. Mayfield will have to use that quick decision-making ability and ability to thread the needle with three-step drops and run-pass options.
Tuesday, this writer pointed out that Baker Mayfield‘s former quarterback coach, Ken Zampese, is now coaching Dwayne Haskins of Washington. Zampese, who is a former NFL offensive coordinator, can also share his knowledge with the rest of the coaching staff, which could give them some insight into Mayfield’s habits and patterns. In this writer’s opinion, Zampese helped Mayfield significantly in 2018 and did not get as much credit as he deserves. But Cleveland trumps the Zampese edge by bringing Callahan into battle.
If fact, in the early going Callahan has been the most valuable assistant coach, since every player under his care has shown some level of improvement. Callahan’s reunion with his former charges Sunday will be a great test to see how it comes together against a quality front four.
Do you suppose he will insist on giving hugs, like Hue Jackson in 2018 when Hue returned to Cleveland with the Cincinnati Bengals?