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It's Time to Address the Offensive Line

This morning on Cleveland area talk radio, callers and hosts are falling all over themselves to declare Ben Roethlisberger the next quarterback of the Cleveland Browns. #19 offers a different view, from the perspective of someone who had to play behind great (and not-so-great) offensive lines during his career. More analysis that you've get ONLY on Bernie's Insiders! <A HREF="">Grab a five-day trial</A> of Total Access and get inside today!

Kelly Holcomb and Tim Couch have certainly had their challenges this year.

Some people say it's time for the Browns to go out and draft another young and promising quarterback. In reality, the quarterbacks have done okay considering the long list of issues the offense has had to deal with to date. I will admit though, it doesn't appear that either Couch or Holcomb is the long-term Super Bowl leader the team needs.

I hear people say the Browns should ask their fans, again, to be patient while a young and promising quarterback matures. For now, that isn't the pressing issue. Holcomb's competitiveness has been fine and when it gets right down to the heart of the matter, the Browns aren't ready to draft a quarterback of promise.

This team has no business investing in the mind and arm of an offensive leader until they are ready to prove and practice a commitment to building an offensive line.

Since the rebirth of the Browns five years ago, the organization has had limited success with its decisions on the offensive line. Ryan Tucker is clearly an exception here. He's played very well. Shaun O'Hara and Jeff Faine are showing promise.

Couch spent his first four years in the NFL running for his life behind a patchwork line. Holcomb's fate this year has been just as brutal.

Furthermore, this team can't run the football in short yardage situations.

How many times have we seen the Browns fail to run for a touchdown inside the five this year? Plenty. That inefficiency is a direct reflection on the offensive line. I know the unit has been decimated by injuries this year, but my point is not focused solely on this one year.

Why is it that other NFL teams can make a solid commitment to building their offensive lines and the Browns cannot? The St. Louis Rams drafted tackle Orlando Pace with the first overall pick in the 1997 draft. The Baltimore Ravens took tackle Jonathan Ogden with the fourth overall pick in 1996 and the Jacksonville Jaquars selected tackle Tony Boselli second overall in 1995.

A year ago, Carolina took tackle Jordan Gross with the eighth pick. Buffalo used the fourth overall pick in 2002 to select tackle Mike Williams and the Washington Redskins took tackle Chris Samuels with the fourth overall pick in 2000. Those are just a few examples.

Remember how much grief the Cincinnati Bengals took for using their 2002 first round pick on tackle Levi Jones? The Bengals took Jones with the 10th overall pick and today he's the anchor of the offensive line at left tackle.

The left tackle is the most important guy on the offensive line. He protects the quarter-back's blind side. Before the Detroit Lions used their high pick in the 2002 NFL draft to select their young and promising quarterback Joey Harrington, they used their two previous first round picks on tackles.

The Lions selected Stockar McDougle and Jeff Backus in the first rounds of the 2000 and 2001 NFL drafts. Today, McDougle starts at right tackle and Backus at left.

Head coaches, general managers and owners are almost always questioned when they've used a high draft pick on an offensive lineman. Why? Because the pick isn't a sexy one. It isn't an "instant promise" pick that you can showcase statistics to the media and the fans and say "this is what you can expect."

The fact of the matter is this though. You can't win without being able to run the ball and you can't run the ball if you don't have a quality line to block. Just ask Emmitt Smith. He appreciates now his wonderful years in Dallas.

If you have a young and promising quarterback trying to find his way in the NFL behind a line that is not ready to protect him, he'll get beat up.

Trust me, I know. The Browns have had a long history when it comes to casting a casual eye to the importance of a capable offensive line. I was drafted in 1985. Over the next nine years, the Browns selected only three offensive linemen with a draft pick higher than the sixth round: center Gregg Rakoczy in the second round of 1987, guard Ed King in the second round of 1991 and center Steve Everitt in the first round of 1993.

I can say with no doubts today that my career was shortened because of the injuries I sustained while playing behind an offensive line that the Browns showed little commitment to during my final years with the team.

So forget about finding a new young and promising quarterback. Forget about worrying over whether William Green will straighten out. Forget about worrying over whether or not the Browns can find a tight end or a fullback. Given the salary cap nightmare that head coach Butch Davis and player personnel director Pete Garcia inherited, fixing all the team issues at once is extremely challenging.

So, if I may be so bold as to make a suggestion: let's start with the offensive line. Old habits are often hard to break and this bad habit has been badgering the Browns for years. 


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