BEREA—When it comes to the Browns offensive line, there are mixed opinions. The left side of the line has Joe Thomas at left tackle and Eric Steinbach at guard. Thomas has been ranked as one of the best offensive lineman in the NFL as he is just entering his fourth season.
Alex Mack was the first-round pick last season at center and played well, particularly as the season went on.
On the other side there are a variety of options.
The incumbents from last season are a bit long in the tooth with John St. Clair entering his 11th season and Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack in his 10th season. St. Clair was the right tackle for most of the season, while Womack was the right guard.
The Browns had some of their best rushing games after St. Clair went down and Womack was moved to right tackle. Obviously, the Browns weren't sold on St. Clair and went out and signed Tony Pashos as an unrestricted free agent. It was assumed he was signed to play right tackle, but the Browns used him at both right guard and tackle in the minicamps.
Shawn Lauvao was drafted in the third-round and the Browns are hoping that Lauvao will be in the mix for the starting right guard slot.
The Browns were very successful running the ball down the stretch as they won their last four games. Womack stepped in at right tackle after St. Clair was injured against the Chiefs and Rex Hadnot was the right guard for the rest of the Chiefs game and the final two games. The Browns let Hadnot leave as a free agent after the season.
It is no coincidence that the Browns played their best football at the end of the season when the offensive line played well. The line only allowed seven sacks over the final seven games.
Here are the candidates for the 2010 roster:
Joe Thomas (6-6, 312) – Thomas has started all 48 games he has played with the Browns and he has been to the Pro Bowl after all three seasons. Thomas has been the anchor for the Browns line since joining the team as the third overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
Eric Steinbach (6-6, 295)—Steinbach is in his eighth NFL season out of Iowa. He has played three seasons with the Browns, starting 46 games. In his career, Steinbach has started 108 of 109 games he's played in.
Alex Mack (6-4, 311) –Mack started all 16 games at center for the Browns and did not miss a snap. Mack was named to the Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football Writers of America all-rookie team. He played well and should only get better as he gets more experience.
Floyd Womack (6-4, 328) – Womack started nine of 13 games he played in 2009 with the Browns. In his 10 year NFL career, Womack has started 53 of 103 games. He joined the Browns as an unrestricted in 2009 after playing with the Seahawks.
John St. Clair (6-6, 320) – St. Clair started 14 games at right tackle in 2009 and missed the final two games with an ankle injury. St. Clair has started 69 of 121 NFL games in his 11 year career.
Tony Pashos (6-6, 326)—Pashos joined the Browns as an unrestricted free agent from the 49ers. He played just five games before suffering a shoulder injury that placed him on injured reserve. In his first seven seasons, Pashos was with the Ravens for his first four seasons before joining the Jaguars for two seasons. Pashos has 55 starts in the NFL, most of them at right tackle. In 2007, Pashos helped the Jaguars produce a rushing average of 149.4 yards per game in 2007 to lead the AFC.
Billy Yates (6-2, 305)—Yates appeared in seven games for the Browns in 2009 after signing on Sept. 16. Yates is in his seventh NFL season with 11 career starts in 32 NFL games.
Pat Murray (6-3, 316) – Murray finished the 2009 season on the practice squad. He played his college football at Truman State.
Shawn Lauvao (6-3, 315) – Lauvao was taken in the third round of this year's draft from Arizona State. He played left tackle for the Sun Devils, but the Browns are planning on working him at right guard.
Casey Bender (6-5, 295) – Signed as an undrafted free agent from South Dakota State.
Joel Reinders (6-7, 320) – Signed as an undrafted free agent from Waterloo (Canada).
Heading into training camp it appears that Thomas, Steinbach and Mack are entrenched as starters, with Womack and Pashos the favorites to play on the right side. Lauvao could push Womack for playing time at right guard. St. Clair will be battling for a roster spot. The Browns like Lauvao's versatility and to add another young player into the mix bodes well for the future.
Besides St. Clair, Kooistra and Yates have NFL experience, while Bender, Reinders, Murray and Tevaseu are looking for a spot on the practice squad, if they don't make the final roster.
(Next, we'll take a look at the defense, starting with the defensive line)