The expectations surrounding the Cleveland Browns are at an all-time high, and why wouldn’t they be? On paper, the team is arguably the most talented group in the entire NFL, and should be able to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. But nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, and the Browns do have one major question mark; the offensive line.
The unit allowed just nine quarterback hits over the final eight games (as compared to 61 over the first half of the season), but the group will look a bit different this year without Kevin Zeitler, who is now a member of the New York Giants.
The importance of keeping Baker Mayfield upright and opening holes for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt cannot be understated. The starters played just one drive against the Washington Redskins last week, with others competing for a starting job playing more. Here’s how they did.
Keep in mind that many of Washington’s key defensive players sat out, including Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis, Daron Payne, Ryan Kerrigan, Montez Sweat, Josh Norman, Quntion Dunbar, and Greg Stroman. So even though that opening drive was impressive, it came against backups.
LG Joel Bitonio
As usual, Bitonio had no trouble whatsoever. He made his first Pro Bowl last year, and has been on of the most underrated lineman in the league for a while now. He is the anchor of Cleveland’s line, and Mayfield is fortunate to have a player of his caliber up front.
C J.C. Tretter
As long as Tretter is healthy, he’s one of the top centers in the NFL. He played much of last season with a sprained ankle, and has hurt it again during training camp.
Here, the defender initially gets good pushback, but Tretter (#64) is able to recover and anchor as Mayfield gets the ball out quick.
LT Greg Robinson
The wild card of the line, Robinson was the second overall pick in 2014, but busted hard. Cleveland signed him last offseason to a minimum contract as developmental depth, and he started the final eight games of the year, taking over for rookie Desmond Harrison. Robinson had the best stint of his career, although that’s not saying much. His salary for this season is $7 million, and could increase to $9 million with incentives.
He’s the Browns best option at LT this season, although they allowed for the possibility of an upgrade, as he’s guaranteed just $500,000. New OL coach James Campen has reportedly made a big impact on Robinson, so perhaps we’ll see an improvement in play. Again, take the first preseason game with a grain of salt, but Robinson was great against Washington.
You can see his physical gifts on display here. He gets moved back just one step while taking on a full-speed bull rush.
He needs to be more consistent in establishing and anchor like this, but if he is able to do that, he’s going to earn himself a lot of money next offseason.
RT Chris Hubbard
Like Robinson, Hubbard struggles with consistency. He’s currently in year two of a five-year $36.5 million contract, and did not play like a top-10 RT.
On this snap, he overcommits to the defender’s outside move, leading to an easy long-arm which would have given the defender an easy route to the QB, had his own teammate not filled the lane.
But other than that, Hubbard was solid. He had issues with penalties last season, so he needs to cut down on those. He doesn’t have to be a Pro Bowler, just not a turnstile.
RG Eric Kush
The right guard spot was expected to go to Austin Corbett, the 33rd overall pick in 2018 who rode the bench his rookie season because there was no way he was going to beat out Bitonio or Zeitler. But Corbett was unable to outplay Kush (more on him later), so the career journeyman is now the likely starter. He had Pro Football Focus’s highest pass block grade of any guard last season, although the sample size for Kush was quite small.
His first drive was fine. His second drive started out terribly.
To be fair, this was a screen pass, but your QB isn’t supposed to get planted either. If Cassanova McKinzy off the edge wasn’t hitting Stanton, Kush’s man was. This absolutely cannot happen during the regular season. Another poor rep from Kush:
The player manhandling Kush in these two clips is second-year DT Tim Settle, a fifth-round pick in 2018 who had exactly zero QB hits last season.
Kush played the majority of the first quarter, and didn’t due much to quell fears. RG looks like a big issue for the Browns, and while the numbers say that guard is one of the least valuable positions, if Mayfield doesn’t feel comfortable stepping into his throws and moving up into the pocket, the offense as a whole will suffer.
C Austin Corbett
Not including character risks who have become alleged repeat offenders (Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt, Antonio Callaway), Corbett is the biggest blemish on general manager John Dorsey’s record. He is a flat-out miss. With the first pick of the second round in 2018, Cleveland selected Corbett, passing on other quality guards in Will Hernandez, Braden Smith, James Daniels, and Connor Williams.
The reasoning for this was the team thought that perhaps could play left tackle (his position in college) and replace Joe Thomas. If that didn’t work out, he’d move inside and be a good guard. Once Zeitler was traded, Corbett was expected to fill his spot. Instead, Corbett has been relegated to second-team center, where he played the entire game (sans the first drive) on Thursday.
This means that, barring an injury to Tretter, Corbett will spend half of his rookie contract on the bench. That’s terrible value for such a high pick, which could have been used on so many better players. But no use crying over spilled milk, let’s see how Corbett is doing at center.
Actually not too terrible. The first three quarters were solid, with this play being his biggest mistake. He initially does his job, as the defender doesn’t get any push. But Corbett doesn’t continue engaging, which allows the lineman to jump and swat the ball down. Aside from this, nothing too egregious so far. Corbett’s snaps have been good as well.
Things were a bit different in the fourth quarter.
Corbett’s snap quality remained high, but he had some trouble with #92 Austin Maolata. Oddly enough, rookie project Drew Forbes was able to handle Maolata with little issue. Corbett’s biggest issue is a lack of consistency in his technique, which makes it difficult to slow down any type of rusher.
If a player is still in the game deep into the fourth quarter, it probably means he’s fighting for a roster spot. Because of his draft status, Corbett likely isn’t in danger of being cut, but it’s still incredibly disappointing where he is at this point in his career.