The Cleveland Browns faced adversity along its offensive line before a snap was even taken Thursday against the St. Louis Rams at First Energy Stadium. The Browns had to quickly overcome an injury to starting right guard Shawn Lauvao which occurred at the tail end of Monday's practice. The Browns' coaching staff quickly adjusted by placing Jason Pinkston into the starting lineup. Pinkston, a former starter at left guard, played extremely well considering the circumstances which surrounded his return to the lineup. The offensive line as a whole was consistent against the Rams despite certain individual areas which can be improved.
Aaron Adams: Adams entered the game at the 11:25 mark in the fourth quarter as the third team left guard. Adams, an undrafted rookie from Eastern Kentucky, fired off the ball with authority upon his arrival in the game. He struggled to pick up a run blitz later in the contest. Adams didn't deliver a blow to an onrushing defender which blew up one particular power play. Overall, Adams lacked punch at the point of attack in his first contest as a professional.
Dominic Alford: Alford held down the fort at right tackle in the second half. The biggest concerns regarding Alford's play are seen in his pass set. The second-year pro from Minnesota doesn't possess ideal size or length at offensive tackle. He overcompensated against the Rams by over setting in his pass pro. The problem was further compounded by the Alford's bad habit of holding his hands low in his set. Alford didn't allow much pressure from the Rams' defense, but these are areas which could be exploited as the preseason continues.
Rashad Butler: Butler is the greybeard of the offensive line at 30 years old and eight years of NFL experience. Butler is also one of the top technicians among the group. Butler unceremoniously began his career as a Brown with a false start. As Butler grew more comfortable with the flow of the game, he anticipated the count well showing very good quickness out of his stance. Butler may not be an ideal candidate to start at left tackle in a pinch, but he displayed very good balance in his pass set against the Rams.
Braxston Cave: The third team center did one thing particularly well against the Rams. Cave never stopped pumping his feet in an attempt to drive defenders off the ball. Cave wasn't the most physical lineman at the point of attack – and it can be argued he was more of a position blocker – but he was certainly persistent. Cave also had one of the key blocks in the game. The center recognized a Mike dog from the Rams' defense and successfully anchored enough against the blitzing linebacker to allow quarterback Brian Hoyer to complete a 26-yard touchdown to wide receiver Cordell Roberson.
Garrett Gilkey: The product of a Division II Chadron State looked the part of an NFL offensive lineman the moment he stepped on the field against the Rams. A source told the Orange and Brown Report the team felt Gilkey could contribute this year. If his play against the Rams was any indication, those words may prove prophetic. Gilkey was strong at the point of attack. He finished blocks. He displayed strong hands which stymied defenders. Angles taken to the second level were sufficient. And he excelled when asked to move in space whether it was leading a screen play or pulling on a power. It was particularly impressive to see a rookie lineman from a small college understand he has to hold his block for two or three seconds before he releases during a screen. With all of that said – there are two areas of concern based on the Rams' tape. Gilkey's lateral agility in pass protection, particularly when asked to recover from secondary pass rush moves, was sub-par. Also, his base can get wide in his set after his gets his initial fit. These two areas can go hand in hand and will require added technique work.
John Greco: Greco is now firmly entrenched at left guard after signing a new five-year contract in July. Browns' coach Rob Chudzinski wants to build chemistry on the left side of the line with Greco and All Pro left tackle Joe Thomas attached at the hip. The process started against the Rams. Greco's performance was solid albeit unspectacular. The highlight of Greco's day was when he emphatically finished a block near the pile after running back Dion Lewis completed a third down conversion via a draw. Greco was asked to pull more than last season. In one instance, Greco wasn't able to work his way through traffic and lost his footing on contact during a power play. Greco was another interior lineman apparently comfortable leading in front of screens (initiating one block nine yards down field). In the running game, Greco played his angles well to get to his second level assignments. In his pass set, Greco was driven back at times against a talented Rams defensive line. His ability to anchor needs to improve. Greco also took on a blitzing linebacker by lowering his head. A habit he doesn't want to continue.
Caylin Hauptmann: The first time Hauptmann gained attention; it wasn't positive. Hauptmann was called for a false start during a field goal attempt. Once the third string right guard permanently entered the game in the second half, Hauptmann wasn't completely overwhelmed. He was quick into his pass set, but he lacked a strong initial punch. Instead of landing a blow, he was catching defenders. Hauptmann did display strong hands to maintain the block when he finally got a hold of opponents. But it came down to establishing a fit first and foremost. Hauptmann also showed signs of recognition issues while blocking in space.
Alex Mack: The Cleveland Browns want Mack to play with a nasty streak this year. It wasn't readily apparent against the Rams. Mack was solid in pass protection and wasn't beaten, but he had a few areas during run calls where he could improve next week. Mack usually walled off defenders after the initial blow. During the Greg Little reverse, both Mack and Thomas blocked the same defender. Mack should have instead scraped to the backside backer. The unblocked linebacker made the tackle. Mack was also asked to pull multiple times. He struggled working through traffic in those instances. The center's best block of the day came when he got to the second level during Dion Lewis' third down draw conversion. Mack led the way for the first down.
Jason Pinkston: The Rams' contest belonged to Jason Pinkston. Despite not seeing any game action since week six of last season and transitioning to the right side of the line, Pinkston didn't miss a beat. His hand play was extremely impressive. Pinkston consistently shot his hands. The punch was strong, high, tight and often found defenders' chest plates. The proper technique allowed Pinkston to win the majority of his battles throughout the contest, because he established control. Pinkston put in work by playing with both the first and second offensive units. He appeared to wear down slightly towards the end of the second quarter, but he gets a pass due to the circumstances. One area Pinkston will need to improve since he'll now be the team's starter at right guard to open the season is his run blocking angles. Pinkston was physical and drove defenders off the ball, but he needs to get his head across on the backside to prevent penetration.
Mitchell Schwartz: Early indications may point towards Schwartz becoming a top notch run blocker this season. The second year starting right tackle got massive push against the Rams on both down and scoop blocks. He does need to improve his recognition and scrape to the linebackers after the initial push. Schwartz didn't do so consistently during the first preseason game. His pass set was a bit more troublesome. Schwartz tends to give up his post leg by turning his shoulders early. None of the Rams' defenders attempted to take advantage of this, but it's something to watch in the future. Schwartz also gave up a pair of pressures. The first came during the initial play of the game where he was bull rushed into starting quarterback Brandon Weeden. Schwartz was also beat to the outside with speed. The defender batted Weeden's arm to force an errant pass. The Browns left Schwartz on an island throughout the contest, but it'll be interesting to see how much help he will be given this season if these issues persist.
Jarrod Shaw: Shaw continues to grow into his role as the team's second string center. The second-year pro didn't play center in college. He started the transition to pivot last season. Shaw is clearly more comfortable at the position this year than last. The biggest difference seen against the Rams was Shaw's hand play. He was able to get his hands in position much more quickly off the snap. He was beating many of the Rams' defenders to the punch (literally). The biggest concern is Shaw didn't display much explosion or power off the snap.
Joe Thomas: Thomas is a joy to watch, because he is the most technically sound offensive lineman in the NFL. He is a dominant pass blocker. It also makes him somewhat boring to break down. No Ram came near Weeden from the blindside. Thomas shut down defenisve end Robert Quinn. Thomas, in particular, displayed a strong inside hand to either ride defenders wide or prevent them from making an underneath move. The lone nitpick in Thomas' game against St. Louis is he missed a linebacker scraping down the line on one occasion.
Martin Wallace: Wallace, an undrafted rookie from Temple, saw extended time at both right and left tackle. Wallace performed at right tackle with the second team offense. He then moved to the blindside in the second half. Wallace's lack of flexibility in his hips was immediately noticeable. Wallace simply played at a higher pad level than his opponent. When he moved to left tackle, the Browns' staff tried to make him comfortable by sliding the protection his way early and often. All of this is compounded by a weak initial punch. Wallace was prone to giving up his chest as a result. Wallace will need a stronger effort during the next two preseason games if he hopes to make the roster or practice squad.