Lineman Saves The Day

Fighting for a starting job along the line, Rex Hadnot catches a punt and, in the process, brings an early end to the final minicamp of the spring.

Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini wants his offensive linemen to be versatile – to be able to play a lot of positions.

Maybe some that aren't even on the line.

Let us introduce Rex Hadnot, who is trying his best to be the most versatile linemen the Browns have.

"Like they say, man, the more you can do," Hadnot said with a laugh after Saturday's minicamp practice.

Hadnot can play either guard spot and is in tight battle with Eric Steinbach for the starting job on the left side (more on that in a minute). But he can do so much more – sort of.

Several weeks ago in a half-speed drill during the spring practices, the coaches had Hadnot working as the quarterback. Yes, that's right, the quarterback. It wasn't a drill for quarterbacks, but for defensive linemen. Play after play, he stood in a shotgun formation, took the snap, tucked the ball under his arm and went off the right or left side.

He didn't make anyone forget Terrelle Pryor, but he had a good time nonetheless, smiling as he jogged with the ball.

Then came Saturday morning. The Browns finally ended practice, which ended their three-day, full-squad minicamp, which in turned ended their spring practices. Next stop: six weeks of rest and relaxation to get ready for the start of training camp.

But not so fast, my friend. Saturday's practice, the minicamp and the spring practices couldn't officially end until a player stepped out of his realm.

An offensive lineman the players selected – in this case Hadnot – had to catch one of those high, towering, almost-touch-the-clouds punts from Dave Zastudil, the Browns career punting average leader. And if he couldn't do that, then a defensive lineman the players chose would have had to catch a kickoff.

And if both players missed, then a Saturday evening practice would have been held. Nobody – repeat, nobody – wanted to hang around for another two-hour practice in the hot June sun later in the day. So the pressure was on Hadnot.

He was given a practice punt to get used to things. When it soared several feet over his head – to a chorus of laughs and boos from his teammates – he got some quick pointers from cornerback Hank Poteat. He then took off his helmet and said he was ready for the one that counted.

Zastudil skyrocketed another one, but this time, Hadnot caught it. He hip-bumped kicker Phil Dawson, who was standing nearby, while his other cheering teammates ran to him and mobbed him in a big circle as if he had just caught not just a practice punt, but rather the winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl.

"I was just trying to see who was backing me up on that first one," Hadnot said of his miss.

"I had never caught a punt before in my life, and I don't plan on catching another one. Even when you play Play Station, they do it (catch punts) for you there."

But even if returning punts isn't in his future, Hadnot does plan on playing a lot of offensive line this year. At 6-foot-2 and 320 pounds, he seems to have the squatty, powerful build that Mangini likes in his lineman to build a power running game.

But it won't be easy for Hadnot to win the job. Steinbach has started at left guard for the Browns the last two years. Hadnot started at right guard in 2008 in his first season with the club.

So Hadnot has to switch sides and beat out an incumbent.

"I feel just as comfortable on the left side as I do the right," he said. "It's all about trying to be flexible and versatile."

Whether it be on the line, catching punts or playing quarterback. Look out, Josh Cribbs, here comes Rex Hadnot.

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