Here Comes the New Guard

The Browns will select an offensive guard on April 29th. Here's why, according to Mark Leonard...

On Friday March 24, the Washington Redskins signed a pair of Ohio-born interior offensive linemen: Bainbridge's Tyson Walter (Kenston High) and recent Brown Mike Pucillo. Both are versatile, capable of playing center or guard, with Walter having earlier been a three-year starter as Ohio State's left tackle.

But that is not what makes their signings significant to a site such as this one. I suspect it signals the intention on the part of the Browns to select a Day One offensive guard April 29.

Why? Because Pucillo was not retained?

No, there is more to it than that, in no small part because it was likely not so much Pucillo's decision to leave as it was Cleveland's to encourage his departure. Had the club wished to retain him, it likely would've communicated as much to the player by making it worth his while to remain.

Pucillo, it should be remembered, started a number of games last fall for the Browns. Some were at LG for Joe Andruzzi, a few at RG for Cosey Coleman and others at center for Jeff Faine. That so many interior injuries necessitated it and that only DEV prospect Atlas Herrion joins recent addition Bob Hallen and Dave Yovanovits as depth inside---unless the unlikely occurs and Faine is retained---suggests GM Phil Savage has a draftee in his sights for reinforcement.

There is no way the club goes into 2006 with so little in reserve or dependent upon Day Two draftees to support its starters. A vet free agent (or two) could surely be added between today and the opening of camp, but the longer the delay, the less likely it is that serious quality can be secured.

Tutan Reyes (Carolina Panthers) heads the list of on-the-street vets who have started in the league, by the way. That none have been rumored nor signed yet suggests they're not being heartily considered---unless, of course, their asking prices need time to fall.

Hence, it is reasonable to conclude Round Two could bring a future starter inside. And it is remotely possible the best of the draftees at the OG position might still be available at 44. Surely most of the top four should be.

The general consensus says Georgia's Max Jean-Gilles (6-3 360) is the top-rated guard, followed by Oklahoma's Davin Joseph (6-2 304) and either OSU's Rob Sims (6-3 321 of Nordonia) or Pitts' converted DL Charles Spencer (6-5 340).

The guess here is it will be the massive Spencer. Though still somewhat raw as an offensive player, his upside is considerable. Joseph is probably the most polished and Sims the most questionable. Gilles could be the only one gone by Savage's second pick, barring a trade or another surprise.

On the subject of draftees and the Browns, it has been somewhat widely reported that the organization retains only nine from Butch Davis' four drafts: none from his initial one in 2001; William Green and Andra Davis from '02; Faine, Chaun Thompson, Lee Suggs and Ryan Pontbriand from '03; Kellen Winslow, Jr., Sean Jones and Kirk Chambers from 2004.

So far.

Considering collegiate injuries caused LB Davis and RB Suggs to fall well below their anticipated slots, Coach Davis' decisions to gamble on them possibly represents his wisest draft-day inspirations. His selection record would look even worse without these two.

Chambers recently re-signed to join Nat Dorsey behind FA Kevin Shaffer at OLT. On the right side, Ryan Tucker figures to be backed by '05 number seven pick Jonathan Dunn and DEV's Pete McMahon, who was schooled by Savage's buddy Kirk Ferentz at Iowa.

This collection, while neither stellar nor proven behind the starters, further suggests it will be guard rather than tackle receiving Draft Day priority. Unlike under earlier administrations, the OL will not be ignored. This is to say: "Expect OG to be addressed on Day One." April 30 would be soon enough for OT, if at all.

As for final thoughts on Davis' completely-wasted inaugural draft of 2001, that was the year he followed Gerard Warren with WR Quincy Morgan and RB James Jackson, leaving for the Bengals WR Chad and RB Rudi Johnson.

Not only was he unable to distinguish between them, but he also missed the considerable disparity between Warren and Charger RB LaDainian Tomlinson on the elite scale.

It is bad enough to miss on a draftee or two once in awhile, but it is damn damning to fail repeatedly to distinguish the mundane from the priceless. Each of these DL has been to at least one Pro Bowl since following Warren off the 2001 draft board: Richard Seymour, Marcus Stroud, Casey Hampton and Kris Jenkins. (Warren has yet to appear.)

I could well be missing one or two. But I won't get $12 million to wash down my blunders. My guess is you don't either.

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