And the Wichita lineman is still on the line
- Glen Campbell
Pardon me if I'm a little hoarse today. You see, I've spent the last year and a half screaming at the top of my lungs: "DRAFT A DAMNED OFFENSIVE LINEMAN!"
Anybody listening yet?
In the New Browns' first draft, taking a quarterback was the obvious choice. Taking a couple of studs to beef up a sad defense made a lot of sense the next few years. But drafting William Green before this season just made no sense to me, not when we didn't have a reliable line up front to block for him. That choice reminded me of a kid with a Toys R Us gift certificate: He's gonna pass up the toys that would last him a lifetime and get something cool and shiny every time. And those shiny new toys are great, until the batteries wear out or the kid next door runs them over with his bike. Then who comes crying to Momma?
Just look at the problems plaguing the Browns this year: Running backs who can't find a hole, quarterbacks running for their lives, false starts and a worn-out defense. Then think about what we might look like if we had some young studs up front instead of a bunch of retreads.
A look at the stats shows what happens when the offensive line isn't clicking:
- Of the nine games the Browns have played so far this season, they've lost the Time of Possession battle seven times. In the second Steelers game, the Browns' offense had the ball for just 17:50. The team's average time of possession is 28:18, good for 23rd in the league.
- The Browns are 27th in first downs per game, with 16.8. The team has made 151 first downs; opponents have made 182.
- The Browns have run 545 offensive plays. Opponents have run 607. In the second Steelers game, the Browns ran 42 offensive plays; Pittsburgh ran 85.
- Cleveland quarterbacks have been sacked 19 times, for a loss of 140 yards.
- Browns running backs are averaging 3.5 yards per carry, for a season total of 651. There are nine backs in the NFL with more rushing yards this year than the entire Browns backfield.
- Only Houston has fewer rushing touchdowns than the Browns' two. Kansas City and Minnesota each have 14. Thirty players in the league have more rushing touchdowns than the Browns' total.
- The Browns have two rushes for more than 20 yards all year. The Jaguars lead the league, with 12.
- Cleveland and Houston are tied for last in the league with 32 rushing first downs. Kansas City and San Francisco each have 74.
- Only five teams have punted more than the Browns.
That's a lot of three-and-outs. Some of that can be blamed on dropped passes and bad throws, but a good chunk of the blame for the anemic offense has to be placed on the shoulders of the offensive line. Don't believe me? Ask Roger Chanoine. He started 18 games for the team and played in 32. On Tuesday, he was released. He's a decent player and he'll probably get picked up by someone next week, but he didn't fit in. And he's not alone.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that our lineman can't play, or that they're not good enough to play on any team in the league. God bless Tucker and O'Hara and Wohlabaugh and Stokes and Verba. I sure as hell wouldn't want their job. They are totally taken for granted. The only time their names get called during a game is when they false start or get burned for a sack. Just look at a fantasy football team – running backs, receivers, quarterbacks, tight ends, kickers, defensive units. But have you ever heard of a fantasy league that drafts offensive lineman? Of course not. Or look at the box scores in the paper the morning after a game. The punters get a mention, the officials are named, even the crowd attendance is listed. But where are the stats for the O linemen? Nowhere to be found. They're the NFL's forgotten warriors.
But an offensive line isn't like most other units on a football team. You can't just grab a bunch of good players and throw them together and expect them to open big holes and keep the quarterback from getting his block knocked off. They have to play as a unit. Each guy has to know what the guy next to him is going to do in any given situation. There's more to a stone wall than just a bunch of rocks; you've got to select them carefully and fit them together to make something strong. Build a wall out of somebody else's leftovers and you shouldn't be surprised when it falls down. It's about time to start growing our own linemen. Drafting Melvin Fowler and Joaquin Gonzalez this year, and Paul Zukauskas last year, was an excellent start. Now let's play ‘em.
The O line is one of the most important units on a football team. Running backs and receivers and quarterbacks are the ones called "skill position" players, but it takes a lot of talent to keep a horde of 300-pound goons under control so your "skill" guys can make SportsCenter. Without a solid group of lineman who know how to play together, you're doomed.
Remember back in Pop Warner, when the coach was assigning positions to kids? The fat, slow kids always got put on the offensive line. And remember what happened to the quarterback? He got creamed every time, because the fast, mean kids were playing defense and ran right past the lardasses on the line.
It's about time to get our own fast, mean kids out there on the offensive line.
Now pardon me. I've got some more screaming to do.