Focus On: The Offensive Line

Before free agency and the draft starts, we need to once again look at the team's current roster. Lane Adkins is providing an in-depth look at each group of players. Who succeeded, who struggled, and what happens next...

- Arguably one of the best if not the finest LT in the game today, Joe Thomas has been everything the Browns could have hoped for since being drafted in the first round three years ago. Coming into the league known as an athletic lineman that relies on his agility to perform at the highest level, Thomas has improved his overall physical strength and technique, which leads to the Pro Bowler being a more complete physical presence along the Cleveland offensive line. As the Browns offense geared increasingly toward the rushing game late in the season, Thomas, along with LG Eric Steinbach, again performed at a high level.

- As the left side of the Browns offensive line improved, Steinbach's play was noticeably on the rise. Heading into training camp prior to the season, Steinbach was asked to carry additional weight in an attempt to add bulk, a move expected to help the player be more physical at the point of attack. In the past, Steinbach faced difficulty in maintaining weight/bulk as a season progressed. In 2009, the additional weight factored into a sluggish training camp as the LG appeared a step slow off the blocks, creating some issue of being in position. As the season progressed, Steinbach adapted (and lost a little of the weight) and his play over the second half of the season was much improved. There is little reason why Steinbach should not be counted on to the Browns' starting LG again in the 2010 season.

- Under a reasonable salary and coming off a solid year on the field -- when provided the opportunity -- Hank Fraley has proven to be a valuable commodity. Fraley's ability to step in and play at an above-average level at LG, C and RG sits well with a head coach that likes his consistency, versatility and leadership qualities. Starting C Alex Mack credits Fraley for helping him develop as a player throughout his 2009 rookie campaign.

- If every draft selection of the Cleveland Browns can perform to the level of Alex Mack, this team will be competitive much sooner rather than later. His much-documented struggles in training camp, which included arguably the most laps run for mistakes in practice sessions, behind him, Mack grew throughout the season and is on target to being a top-ten centers in the game heading into 2010. An impressive attribute Mack displayed in college was to neutralize those within the interior of the defensive line and reach the second level when required; as a rookie this past season, Mack demonstrated this same quality at the professional level regardless of the competition faced, which is a great indicator of his athletic ability and physical strength/nature.

- Starting RT John St. Clair is not expected to return in the 2010 season -- despite his three-year contract -- if the team can secure a starting-caliber player at the position. Throughout the season, St. Clair struggled mightily with speed-rushing DEs and OLBs and the right side of the Browns offensive line only gained consistency once he was replaced by Floyd Womack.

- Womack struggled with an ankle sprain at points during the season, which limited his ability to finish off plays. Once healthy, Womack performed at a reasonable level overall, but was most impressive during the second half of the season. 2009 was indeed a tale of two seasons for the veteran lineman. Due to his reasonable contract and improved play, along with versatility down the homestretch of the season, Womack is likely to on the roster heading into camp.

- Rex Hadnot's training camp and season were shortened due to a knee injury, which directly impacted the Browns offensive line throughout the first half of the season. Prior to the knee injury, Hadnot was receiving reps at LG in place of Steinbach which only amped up the concern the head coach displayed in the ability and belief in Steinbach. The injury secured the spot for Steinbach, but also affected the battle at RG. Hadnot and Womack were splitting reps at RG with veteran Ryan Tucker.

As camp progressed, Tucker gained reps at RT, while Womack and Fraley battled at RG. During the second half of the 2009 season, Hadnot and Womack bounced in and out of the line-up at RG and Hadnot only gained majority reps when starting RT St. Clair went down with an ankle injury. As Hadnot and Fraley manned the RG position down the homestretch of the season, the play of the right side improved. Durability remains a concern of the Browns' staff, though this staff likes the physical presence Hadnot provides. The off-season will be a hit or miss for Hadnot, all dependent on whether the Browns find a presence inside to replace Hadnot.

- Ryan Tucker has apparently played his last down with the Cleveland Browns. Despite feeling good following knee surgery and time away from the game, the Browns appear to have no interest in bringing back the veteran lineman.

- Scott Kooistra is an offensive lineman, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals. Kooistra sports the size (6-6, 325 pounds) to play OG and potentially RT, which are the areas the Browns are most concerned with heading into the off-season. The veteran could provide depth for the Browns, but getting him on the practice field to determine whether he has the physical skill set is the great unknown.

- Pat Murray was on the Browns' practice squad during the 2009 season after arriving late in training camp. Murray is merely perceived as a depth role type player at this time, but the staff likes his footwork, burst and developing skill set. Murray has been signed to a 'futures contract' with the Browns to remain with the organization.

- Within the Browns organization, Jason Capizzi is a player of great interest and potential. Capizzi has tremendous size (6-9, 325 pounds) with an improving punch, burst and footwork. If Capizzi had been on the Browns' radar early in the season, he would have been added to the active roster, according to team sources. Despite being added to the Browns practice squad in mid-December, he has quickly become a favorite due to his ability to play both LT and RT. Signed to a futures contract, the staff believe Capizzi will compete for the starting RT spot.


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