As the Browns approach their season opener, their offensive line is unsettled and in flux.
Much of the situation has been caused by the season-ending back injury that sidelined Eric Steinbach. Steinbach's surgery left the team with two choices for the season opener: Start a rookie fifth-round draft pick, or start a veteran acquired after final cuts.
Neither is ideal.
"You factor in everything and at the end of the day we have to put our best players out there, at any position," first-year coach Pat Shurmur said. "If it's a first-year guy or a 12th-year guy. We factor in how they competed, we factor in what we think of them physically and how they work as a unit."
Compounding the issue is starting right tackle Tony Pashos was walking with his left foot in a boot on Monday. That would leave Oniel Cousins to start if Pashos can't. Cousins was signed a day before the preseason finale.
The rookie left guard candidate is Jason Pinkston. He played tackle at Pitt and the Browns drafted him planning to move him to guard. They did not plan to have him start the opener, though.
Artis Hicks is the veteran. He is a 10-year guy who played for the Eagles when Shurmur was an assistant there, and who started 10 games at right guard for Washington last season. It seems that adding Hicks indicates the Browns would prefer to go with experience, but that has to play out in practice.
As for right tackle, Shurmur said he hoped Pashos could play. "Those boots are magical sometimes," he said.
None of this is comforting. The Browns need cohesion up front if they are to keep Colt McCoy healthy this season. Hopes for the team are not the highest, but hopes for McCoy are. Protecting him is paramount.
Shurmur 'Let It Rip': General manager Tom Heckert said one of his goals this offseason was to make the Browns a younger team. They are, thanks to some major roster turnover.
The average age has dropped by 1.5 (from 27.5 to 26), while the roster has seen the number of players 30 and over drop from a league-high 18 to nine.
"I'm going to consider it fresh legs," coach Pat Shurmur said. "As we move forward that's what I'm looking at. Try to create, teach and encourage them and just go out there and play fast. I think that's the type of team that we're trying to create and use that youth to our advantage by just having them play fast. No anxiety, just go out there and let it rip."
Thad You Very Much: The Browns did not plan to keep three quarterbacks this season, but changed their mind when St. Louis released Thad Lewis.
Lewis was the third quarterback a year ago when Shurmur was the offensive coordinator with the Rams. He was a surprise cut by the Rams. When the Browns saw he was available, they moved quickly.
"I think he's a guy that we want to try and develop," Shurmur said.
It's not inconceivable to think that Lewis will spend this season as the third quarterback, but by next season he could be the backup behind Colt McCoy. Shurmur thinks that highly of him.
Help From Hardesty: Running back Peyton Hillis might have the help he lacked a year ago. Hillis had a breakout season for the Browns, but saw his production drop as his carries mounted late in the season.
One of the reasons Hillis had to carry so much of the offense in 2010 was that Montario Hardesty hurt his knee in the final preseason game. That injury ended his season.
The Browns brought Hardesty along very gently in training camp, and he is starting the season healthy and, one would think, refreshed. The Browns also kept rookie Armond Smith after an impressive preseason.
"We have really three different types of backs there," Shurmur said. "We are going to use the whole roster to get us in a position to do what we can do to win the game."