Browns uncover 3 surprise O-Line prospects early in preseason

Browns, Deshaun Watson. [Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union]
Browns, Deshaun Watson. [Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union] /
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Preseason Week 1 had a nasty surprise of the probable loss of young starting center Nick Harris, but the Browns also found three unexpected positive performances on the OL.

The Cleveland Browns uncovered three surprisingly strong performances from offensive linemen that no one was talking about in their exhibition game victory over Jacksonville. There are three prospects on the roster now that previously we assume we would be waving good-bye to at the end of summer camp.

Now, that’s much less certain. These three players stood out in the victory, and it seems that they like Cleveland well enough to try to make it their home.

From the get-go, let’s be clear that a positive performance for the Browns means that a kid could become a viable backup and make the team, but we’re not talking about displacing Pro Bowlers Joel Bitonio, Wyatt Teller or Jack Conklin. The Dawg Pound has its ups and downs with former Round 1 pick Jedrick Wills over at left tackle, but basically we feel his job is safe also.

Center might be the exception since that position is in flux after the recent injury to starter Nick Harris. Ethan Pocic has the inside track for that job but the Browns could be impressed by someone else with a good story.

However, in general, the players who play a lot in the exhibition games are the ones fighting to make the roster, and thus are in danger of getting cut. Given that the normal NFL team keeps nine offensive linemen and won’t cut recent draft picks, the Browns will likely keep Wills, Bitonio, Pocic, Teller, Conklin, Chris Hubbard, James Hudson, and Dawson Deaton. That leaves one spot for the active roster, maybe two. They might stash a few more on the practice squad.

In addition, preseason performances are to be taken with a grain of salt. Everything is run against the other team’s backups and nobody is using their best plays from the back of the playbook, with the possible exception of the Baltimore Ravens, who seem to be willing to expose their first string to needless injuries in pursuit of meaningless preseason victories.

Normal, non-lunatic coaches do not do this, so if your guy puts on a great performance it does not necessarily indicate he is worthy of a starting job in the regular season.

Cleveland Browns O-Line prospects

Browns, Ethan Pocic. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

So who are these three prospects?

After Harris went down, Pocic immediately took his place, as expected. But after ascertaining that Pocic had his game together (he did), then we saw Brock Hoffman, an undrafted free agent from Purdue, take 27 snaps (49 percent of all offensive snaps), and at no time did he get beat in pass protection.

Hjalte Frohalt (HYAL-tee FRO-halt), the pride of Svendborg, Denmark, posted 33 offensive snaps (60 percent of the team total), and Drew Forbes (yes, he is still on the team, after having been drafted in 2019 but never playing a down in a regular season game).

All three of these players looked very good playing against Jacksonville backups. Hoffman looks like the player who is best equipped to challenge for a starting job. Very likely Pocic will be the starting center this season, but Hoffman will be given a chance to convince the coaching staff to make a different choice.