Bigger Not Always Better

Bernie takes a look at the Browns' injury challenges along the offensive line, and what they mean to the team. Number 19 also talks about changes in NFL athletes over the past two decades. Analysis you won't get anywhere else but Bernie's Insiders...

In the mid 1980s, a 300-pound football player was a big, fat guy. Now, that may sound a bit harsh, but really there's no other way to say it.

I say that with great affection to all of my 300-pound teammates. Truth is though, there weren't many 300-pound players in the NFL 15 years ago.

Today, there are a couple hundred guys that weigh over 300 pounds and play professional football. The fat guy has stepped aside and an amazingly sculpted athlete has taken his place. Sir Isaac Newton's Law of Physics never counted on such a phenomenon.

The impact has been a painful one and the Browns are feeling it. Offensive linemen Ross Verba, Barry Stokes, Jeff Faine and Shaun O'Hara have all been hurt.

Why is it happening?

Lots of reasons, but none maybe more simple than this one; the human body just isn't supposed to be tested like it gets tested when very big, very strong and very fast guys start running into and over each other. Injuries are bound to happen. It's a way of life in today's NFL and that's why depth has become so important.

The evolution of the Browns' offensive line is one to review. The Browns went into the season feeling pretty good about Verba, Melvin Fowler, Faine, O'Hara and Ryan Tucker.

It wasn't hard to imagine William Green running for 1,000 yards before the season started, even though no Browns back had done it since 1985. It also wasn't hard to visualize Kelly Holcomb or Tim Couch with time to throw to the team's talented set of wide receivers.

Then Verba, the most important player on the line at left tackle, got hurt and the Browns had to make a very big adjustment. Stokes replaced Verba, then O'Hara replaced Fowler, and finally, Paul Zukauskas replaced O'Hara. The moves were enough to make an offensive coordinator's head spin and the adjustments all took time, they always do, but the line did adjust.

The front five allowed Couch time enough to string together three very good games at quarterback and it controlled the line of scrimmage so well that Green was able to run the clock, literally, late in games.

The Browns' offense was starting to head in the direction of a finished product, not fall back to a work in progress. The depth at quarterback made the adjustment easier. The Browns have proven to be truly blessed to have two quality quarterbacks.

That's why it's a shame to see the injuries mount. I know it's reality in the NFL and I know that every team has to deal with their own challenges.

The Browns have suffered an inordinate amount of bumps, bruises and broken bones on offense though.

The Browns have successfully handled the challenges of injuries so far but I find myself wondering how many more hits they can take. The Browns have used three different starting offensive line combinations already this year. A year ago, they used four over the entire season. When the line finally settled in, the Browns made that great playoff run that we all remember. Duplicating this again won't be easy.

The linemen, emulating their quarterback Kelly Holcomb, have done their best to play through the pain. Every player has a certain level of toughness that keeps him on the field. However, as I've said in this space before, a player must respect his body and be cautious of the long-term damage that can be done by playing through an injury. Sometimes a player's will to win ends up extending his injury and costing him more time on the IR.

Knowing when to sit as a result of injury is easier said than done, especially for this year's team.

Why?

The Browns have a chance to win. They're in a race that is long from decided in the AFC Central Division.

The tease of a return to the playoffs continues to linger. It will all year.

No player worth anything wants to come off the field when the team is in a position to win. Players work too hard to earn the right to play. They're not about to give up that right because they're hurt.

Musician Bill Withers made the song "Lean on Me" famous in the mid 1970s and maybe the Browns ought to adopt it as their theme song right now.

We all know the lyrics: "Lean on me, when you're not strong and I'll be your friend. I'll help you carry on, for it won't be long 'til I'm gonna need somebody to lean on."

Withers must've been a football player.


The OBR Top Stories