Cleveland Browns O-Line: Big kids rule
Second-string big kids are also awesome
This season’s second-string offensive line could probably outplay the first string from past years. Who can forget the 2016 team, that managed to send six quarterbacks to the sidelines with injuries, some of the more than once, with broken collarbones, concussions, and other miscellaneous injuries?
The second string was usually short last season, relying on the talents of Chris Hubbard, Nick Harris, and Kendall Lamm (now departed). Harris and Hubbard could both play center, and Hubbard and Lamm could both play tackle and all three could play guard, so the Browns got way with only eight offensive linemen for most of the season.
This season they replace injury-prone Lamm with fourth-round pick James Hudson, who may be an upgrade, especially in the long run. Hudson was a transfer from The School Up North, where he had problems The Coach Up North, but he excelled at the University of Cincinnati, which went on a little run in 2020.
There’s a consistent pattern of talented offensive players not achieving their potential up north, so his problems in Ann Arbor shouldn’t be held against him. This player will be fine, and he will not be a problem, it says here.
A separate discussion would be the timetable for starting Nick Harris at center and Hudson at tackle or guard. Tretter and Bitonio cannot play forever, and also they cannot get paid forever with Baker Mayfield’s contract coming up for an extension.
It might be their last season together. Like Wills, Harris was drafted at age 21; however, Harris was a fifth-round pick and thus his path to the starting lineup is not assured.
Reports from the hierarchy are that they like him, however, so he may find his way to the starting lineup either at center or guard. As a fourth-round pick, there is a greater expectation that Hudson should start by about his second year. We’ll see how the Browns feel next off-season.
Cleveland would probably prefer to carry nine or even 10 offensive linemen. If so, they could look at Michael Dunn, who has knocked around the NFL for several years before playing well for the Browns against the Steelers in the playoffs, when Bitonio was kayoed by the Covid-19 protocol.
Dunn, however, was injured in the fourth quarter, so Blake Hance stepped in and also played a great game. Baker Mayfield literally introduced himself to “some guy named Blake” before the game and then found his blindside protected by Hance in the fourth quarter.
Somehow, Browns scouting was able to identify talented players from among the pool of undrafted free agents, and Bill Callahan and staff were able to coach them up.
The Browns also return Drew Forbes from the opt-out list. Forbes was a sixth-round draft pick in 2019. At one time he was thought to be a contender for the right guard position that was eventually won by Wyatt Teller. He also was tried by the Browns as a tackle.
Carrying nine or ten players is a realistic option if that is what the Browns want to do. Alternatively, they may find some real players on the practice squad who could be called up if needed. These are not the converted matadors of 2016. Josh McCown is undoubtedly green with envy, recalling what he had to deal with back then.