As the Browns prepare to embark upon their second season under Pat Shurmur there are many questions that remain. With training camp opening Sat. July 28, we're going to take a position-by-position analysis of the current roster as the team heads to camp over the next few weeks.
Part five we look at the offensive line.
Candidates: Joe Thomas, Shawn Lauvao, Alex Mack, Jason Pinkston, Mitchell Schwartz, Oniel Cousins, John Greco, Garth Gerhart, Ryan Miller, Matt Cleveland, Jake Anderson, Stanley Daniels, Jeff Shugarts, Jarrod Shaw and Dominic Alford.
For many years the Browns didn't spend many draft choices on their offensive line—and the results showed.
The current regime led by Tom Heckert has made it a priority to draft offensive lineman. His first year he drafted Lauvao in the third-round and in 2011 he drafted Pinkston in the fifth-round. In 2012, Heckert used the second-round pick (37th overall) to draft the presumable starting right tackle in Schwartz. He also used a fifth-round pick to take the versatile Miller, who can play guard and tackle.
Tony Pashos, last year's starter, gutted it out with a torn tendon in his ankle, but he was simply over matched by quicker pass rushers all season. Cousins took reps with the starters in OTAs, but barring a complete collapse Schwartz will be the starter.
Assuming the aforementioned players can play at a high level, the Browns could have one of their best offensive lines for the foreseeable future. Adding former first-round picks Joe Thomas and Alex Mack to the mix, the Browns have not been negligent to that position.
Thomas is entering his prime in his sixth season and has been voted to the Pro Bowl in each of his first five seasons for his play at left tackle. Mack has anchored the center spot since joining the Browns and has been to the Pro Bowl.
Pinkston and Lauvao played all of 2011 at guard and should only get better. Schwartz is penciled in as the right tackle and the Browns are hoping he will be there for a long time.
The depth is expected to come from veterans Greco, Cousins and Miller. There are eight other candidates vying for a roster spot, including four undrafted rookie free agents.
Thomas (6-6, 312, 6th year, Wisconsin) – Thomas is the old-timer at just 27, but the five-time Pro Bowler is the anchor of the line and should be just entering the prime of his career. He has started all 80 games since joining the Browns and has not missed a snap. Thomas joined Jim Brown as the only Browns player to be named to the Pro Bowl in his first five seasons.
Mack (6-4, 311, 4th year, California) – Been a steady performer since being drafted in the first round and making the Pro Bowl after the 2010 season. He has started all 48 games at center since he has been drafting, including last season playing every snap in a game after having an appendectomy.
Cousins (6-4, 315, 5th year, UTEP) – He was picked up after Eric Steinbach went down during the 2011 training camp. Has NFL experience at tackle and could step in if Schwartz doesn't handle the transition to the NFL. Cousins lined up with the first team at right tackle in the OTAs and minicamp. He has started five NFL games, including one last year with the Browns.
Greco (6-4, 315, 5th year, Toledo) – Obtained in a preseason trade last season and appeared in 15 games with no starts. Greco is seen as a versatile backup at most positions on the line. The Youngstown native has started four games in his NFL career.
Lauvao (6-3, 315, 3rd year, Arizona State) – After minimal playing time as a rookie, Lauvao played the 2011 season at right guard starting all 16 games. Lauvao dedicated himself to getting bigger and stronger this past off-season.
Pinkston (6-4, 305, 2nd year, Pittsburgh) – Started all 16 games at left guard after being a fifth-round draft choice last season. He was only one of six NFL rookie offensive linemen to start every game in 2011. Like Lauvao, Pinkston worked with LeCharles Bentley on improving his technique and skills this past off-season.
Daniels (6-4, 320, 2nd year, Washington) – Free agent pickup who will have to have a stellar preseason to make the team.
Shaw (6-3, 316, 1st year, Tennessee) – Similar to Daniels, he was added as a free agent to compete in training camp.
Alford (6-3, 320, 1st year, Minnesota) –Free agent pick up. Played in the Big 10 and is a Cleveland native.
Schwartz (6-5, 320, Rookie, California) – Drafted this year with the 37th overall pick near the top of the second-round. He is counted upon to immediately be the starting right tackle. Very bright player—who scored a 34 out of a possible 36 on his ACT test. He has an older brother who is also playing in the NFL.
Miller (6-7, 320, Rookie, Colorado) –Taken in the fifth-round and could push either of the guards or right tackle for playing time. Miller could be the backup at both guards and has the size to play tackle in the NFL.
Gerhart (6-1, 305, Rookie, Arizona State) – Undrafted rookie free agent who is a long shot to make the team. Practice squad candidate.
Cleveland (6-3, 295, Rookie, Idaho) – Undrafted rookie free agent. Has a great name for playing with the Browns. Like Gerhard, most likely trying to make an impression to be on the practice squad.
Anderson (6-5, 305, Rookie, Akron) – Undrafted rookie free agent who will need a good training camp to make the roster.
Shugarts (6-6, 305, Rookie, Ohio State) – Undrafted rookie free agent. The former Buckeye is hoping to impress in training camp and find a spot on the roster or practice squad.
Better than 2011? With four of the five starters from last season returning, the line should get a boost from second-round draft choice Schwartz. Assuming this group can meld together quickly, the line should be solid for years to come.
After the starters, the backups are thin with only Greco and Cousins returning. Pashos and Artis Hicks played ahead of both players last year. Barring the team re-signing Steinbach, the team is counting on Miller and one of the free agents to step up and provide depth.