Hitting the Line?

Are the Browns finally poised to invest Day 1 picks on the line? More exclusive information from the NFL combine indicates the answer...

The Cleveland Browns are a team that is notorious for covering their bases and amassing a tremendous amount of data during the scouting period. Their war room has spots over two dozen scouts and other player personnel executives. As a result, it's always been tough to discern whether the Browns are simply engaged in information-gathering when seen following or tracking players, or whether they have a strong interest.

Such intense data gathering hasn't necessarily enhanced the team's success in the draft, but it does have the value of helping to muddle how well other teams understand their objectives. The OBR already has a sizeable list of players we have confirmed the team scouting or interviewing either during the Senior Bowl or this week's NFL combine.

One player the team is clearly interested in learning about is OT Joe Thomas (Wisconsin). Thomas is widely considered to be a top five draft pick, yet is perceived an being riskier than past linemen such as last year's top left tackle, D'Brickashaw Ferguson. During last Tuesday night's chat Scout.com NFL expert Adam Camlan stated that Thomas "has tremendous upside but needs to get in the weight room".

The OBR has confirmed that the Browns have been circling Thomas during this week's NFL Combine and that the team has interviewed the Wisconsin tackle. Should the Browns draft Thomas with the third selection, the most likely scenario is that 2006 free agent LT Kevin Shaffer would move to right tackle in place of uncertain veteran Ryan Tucker.

That the Browns have interviewed Thomas isn't much of a surprise, given his potential availability at the top of the draft, and the team's dire need on their offensive line.

What hasn't been reported is the Browns very intense interest in USC center Ryan Kalil. The first-team All-PAC-10 selection has been interviewed by the Browns, and a source close to the situation informs us that "the Browns are really going hard after Kalil" and have "grilled him" during this week in Indianapolis.

What's somewhat odd is that Kalil in some ways resembles another center, Jeff Faine, who the team dumped last off-season after obtaining C LeCharles Bentley. With Bentley's tragic injury on the first play of training camp threatening his pro football career, the Browns are in the market for a potential long-term replacement. Kalil resembles Faine in that he's under 300 pounds but makes up for his size with sound mechanics.

The Browns history with drafting offensive linemen since 1999 is well known by Browns fans. The team has failed to draft a single guard or tackle on the draft's first day since returning, but has instead taken two centers, neither of whom are still with the team. With the team's stated and extremely clear interest in obtaining at least one, if not two, offensive guards, their quizzing of Thomas, and their interest in Kalil, the Browns are showing considerable focus on potential starting linemen who are likely Day One selections.

Will Phil Savage and crew try to make up for years of neglect on the line by diving headfirst into unexplored territory late in April? The crystal ball remains as foggy as ever, but there are strong signs that a long-standing oversight may finally be addressed in 2007.

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