What can make a 35-year-old discarded signal caller and his (career) backup look splendid during a team's first preseason game? Good line play can and certainly did. For the most part, the Cleveland Browns and their offensive line was solid. Defensively, they played well within the system, though generally lacked play making ability.
In the end, the game was won in the trenches for the Browns, as they squeaked by the Green Bay Packers 27-24 in their first game action of 2010.
Now it is time to see how each individual performed up and down the line of scrimmage.
Joe Thomas: The Browns starting left tackle is the best in the business. This fact should never go unnoticed any time anyone attempts to critique his performance. Over the years, it has become somewhat boring to break down Thomas' game, as he is the epitome of consistency and dominance.
With that in mind, let us attempt the impossible. First, Green Bay's best pass rusher, Clay Matthews III, did not play. As a result, Thomas was never challenged in his pass set. One can only marvel at the body lean and his ability to continually re-establish his hands in pass protection. In the running game, Thomas showed off his athleticism consistently ?getting to the second level while cutting off defenders backside despite possessing natural inside leverage. As the preseason continues, fans can only hope there is even less to write home about in his overall game.
Eric Steinbach: The veteran appeared to have a little extra bounce in his step at the beginning of the game. Steinbach has always been known for his quickness off the snap, but he was also delivering his punch succinctly and with authority. His downfall has always been a lack of bulk, and it will continue to shine through unless otherwise rectified. Cleveland's incumbent left guard had trouble maintaining blocks and was subsequently strewn aside. Also, when defenders attempt a strong bull rush against his pass set, Steinbach's feet will get too wide. As a result, he loses leverage and mobility.
It was interesting to see him apply a flash punch immediately off the snap, since he so often works his hands well to apply proper positioning. One highlight was seeing Steinbach pulling on a trap and absolutely pancaking former Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk. Finally, Steinbach played left tackle for one series with the second unit.
Alex Mack: Entering year two as the team's starting center, the former first-rounder looked much more comfortable than he did a year ago. Overall, the center had a solid performance. He played a large part in calling in the correct protections and kept his quarterbacks relatively clean. Mack was able to get solid fits on his assignments during his limited playing time. Jerome Harrison's 4-yard touchdown run was helped by Mack peeling off and chipping on the linebacker. Lastly, Mack showed his athleticism by getting downfield and laying a crucial block, which sprung running back Peyton Hillis on a screen pass for a 26-yard? gain.
Shawn Lauvao: Welcome to the NFL, rookie. Now go out and play a majority of the first preseason game. One of the stories of training camp has been the quick emergence of Lauvao. Lauvao has an opportunity to start ?because of a rash of injuries among those vying for the two starting positions along the Browns' right side of their offensive line. He has performed admirably. Lauvao, a third-round selection, has had his ups and downs throughout the process and his efforts in this game were no different.
In the Browns' first series, Lauvao scraped off a down block and blew up the inside linebacker (A.J. Hawk, once again). Later, Lauvao was late recognizing a delayed blitz, which caused an errant throw by Seneca Wallace. Inconsistency rang throughout his day. Lauvao did recognize multiple blitzes and stunts. Then, he would have trouble taking proper angles on down blocks, which showcased an inability to wall off the backside. His hand play needs refinement. A stronger punch, while keeping his hands inside, and getting extension will help to prevent defenders from driving him back in his pass set. He does show the ability to move well laterally and locating defenders on the move. A mixed bag for a first attempt, yet one that had enough positives from which to build.
John St. Clair: A favorite whipping boy for some fans, St. Clair had a solid first effort. Although somewhat lumbering at times, St. Clair was able to get to and effectively block on the second level. He was only beaten clean once when he missed his punch. As a result, the defender had a clear path to the quarterback. The result? Seneca Wallace's athleticism took over, he rolled to his left, and threw a strike to Brian Robiskie for a 13-yard a touchdown. As an potential starter, St. Clair may be ideal since he plays over his toes, he does not have a naturally deep kick step and he struggles on angles at times. Even with those attributes, St. Clair was not a liability against Green Bay.
Scott Kooistra: Kooistra, who was waived by Cincinnati last November, was an after thought when the Browns acquired him last December. Now, Kooistra may have displayed the ability and versatility to play himself on this roster. Kooistra played right and left tackle against the Packers. He was primarily a guard with the Bengals. Kooistra's play against Green Bay was solid. A wide body at 6-foot-6, 335-pounds, Kooistra plays with a strong base. He also displays a nasty streak driving through and finishing blocks.
Kooistra has two obvious areas of improvement. First, he does not deliver a strong initial punch. Second, he did have some issues recognizing stunts and blitzes. With the Browns current M*A*S*H* unit among some of the veteran offensive linemen, Kooistra could sneak in and steal a spot on this team.
Pat Murray: Murray approaches his duties with a blue-collar attitude and that pops off the game film. Although the left guard is limited physically and athletically, the former practice squad player really gets into his blocks. He plays with good pad level, driving his hips up and into a block and he keeps his hands inside. Those are all components of getting a good fit on a defender.
His hands are worth a second mention simply because Murray almost never allows them to get too wide. His area of concern is a perceived weak lower body. Murray has some potential, but he may be fighting an uphill battle.
Billy Yates: As second team center and a seven-year veteran, Yates had a lot on his plate putting the younger players around him in a position to succeed. While there were issues, Yates was able to keep his line calls crisp and correct. At 6-foot-2, 305 pounds, his short comings are obvious. The backup center will never be the physical presence like an Alex Mack. Yates showed his ability to get to the second level, but he is simply a wall-off blocker.
John Malecki: The recent free agent acquisition had only a single day of practice with the Browns before being thrown directly into the fire. Very little could be ascertained through his small sample size against Green Bay. Malecki appeared to be a strong straight-line blocker with some nasty intentions. His evaluation will be withheld upon further review.
Casey Bender: Not a good day for an anxious undrafted rookie. In fact, Bender's one claim to fame, at least as a Cleveland Brown, may be as the helmet in question with which Colt McCoy's precarious digit bounced off to cause early injury. Otherwise, Bender struggled at right tackle keeping proper hand positioning in his pass set, thus giving up his chest. Bender was also thrown off a block or two after leading with his head. Hopefully, a stronger second effort is on the horizon.
Kenyon Coleman: Coleman's initial pop off the snap stood out on film. The veteran's five technique was consistently firing off the ball with a low pad level, delivering a blow and gaining leverage. As a result, he is consistent against the run. Against the pas, there is not much to write home about.
Ahtyba Rubin: A good start for the ever improving nose tackle. Rubin forced a fumble by Ryan Grant on the Packers' first play from scrimmage. What will be overlooked on that play was Rubin shooting his hands, getting extension, controlling the defender and then shedding the block before causing the fumble. He is also improving his lateral movement. As a pass rusher there is much to be desired, but Rubin does work his hands to get off blocks and will try to clutter passing lanes if he does not get to the quarterback. Overall, Rubin did his job effectively, and the Packers offensive line simply could not move him off the line of scrimmage.
Robaire Smith: A very powerful defender, Smith consistently controlled his blocker and then disengaged to make plays. His pass rush basically consisted of a powerful bull rush. The three aforementioned defensive lineman are all disciplined within the scheme and that makes it difficult for teams to run the football.
Brian Schaefering: Bouncing back and forth between nose tackle and end, Schaefering has seemingly cut himself a niche into this defense with his play in camp and now in this preseason game. The developing defender's primary role during that time has been in nickel packages to help the Browns' push up the middle in pass rush situations. Schaefering does that by firing off the ball quickly and getting up field. Plus, he continually hustles and works his way all around the field. With an uncertain situation currently surrounding the Browns' defensive line, Brian Schaefering is attempting to make himself a valuable piece.
Titus Adams: He received an early look at nose tackle with the first team to spell Rubin. Later in the game, Adams also played at end. Much like the rest of this unit, he is well coached getting extension and showing the ability to defeat blocks. Adams and the Schaefering will be battling throughout the next few games to prove who is more likely to keep on the active roster.
Swanson Miller: Surprisingly, a dip from the first unit to the second unit was not drastic. Arguably the primary reason was the play of undrafted free agent Swanson Miller. Replacing Rubin at nose tackle, Miller was relatively impressive in his efforts. The rookie has never played in a two-gap system, but he continually established good extension and primarily controlled the center. Miller was a presence ?even though he did not necessarily demand a double team.
On two occasions in particular, Miller was able to swim over the man across him to makes plays. He does need to learn to keep blockers away from his legs on a more consistent basis. If this play continues, Miller has a solid shot at making the practice squad.
Brian Sanford: Sanford is another undrafted free agent currently receiving multiple repetitions because of some depth issues along the defensive line, Sanford is a different style of player compared to those around him. Sanford, who is not as thick or squatty built, relied on firing off the ball low, continually swatting down the hands of blockers, hustling at all times and generally just being active. In fact, he was one of the second-line defenders who showed a legitimate pass rush ability, as evidenced by one spin move in particular. While Sanford is looking at an uphill battle, his first game was encouraging.
Derreck Robinson: Robinson, who is entering his fourth year, is a seasoned veteran as compared to the previously mentioned second line running mates. His experience shined through to a degree. Robinson was able to stack and battle the Packers' first-round draft selection, Bryan Bulaga, throughout their head-to-head meetings. Although primarily an end, Robinson also saw time on the nose. Robinson, who will not get cut because of a lack of effort, was able to get turned and walled off backside on a few occasions.
Clifton Geathers: The Browns' final selection in the 2010 NFL Draft started slowly. He appeared a step slow off the snap, he was being driven off the ball and he did not work all that hard battling along the backside of a play. As the first game jitters began to wear off, Geathers was able to anticipate the snap more quickly and fought blocks harder down the line of scrimmage. Concerns will continue to be raised about his pad level and his ability to deliver a solid initial blow.
Kwaku Danso: A player with a great story for which fans will want to root, Danso simply looked lost at times against Green Bay. The concept of being a two-gap nose did not appear to set in. Green Bay's offensive line was able to cut off Danso from the front side A-gap on multiple occasions. This is the time for growth and development and no one needs more than Danso.
Up next is the woeful St. Louis Rams. It's another opportunity for the offensive and defensive lines to impress and improve with roster spots hanging in the balance.