Amidst all the offseason chatter and wondering about the Cleveland Browns, one player quietly goes about his business, with a very simple goal.
“I think,” said guard Jason Pinkston, “that I can be a ton better.”
He’s not just talking about it, either. Pinkston is spending his offseason in Cleveland training at the O-Line Academy run by former Brown (briefly), Saint and Ohio State Buckeye LeCharles Bentley.
“I like to say that there can be no way that there’s other offensive linemen going through workouts that he’s putting me through,” Pinkston said. “These workouts are something serious … I went through the first week. I was like, ‘This is what I really need.’ I woke up and I could feel every part of my body aching.”
At this point of the offseason, Pinkston is not required to do a thing. The new CBA strictly limits what teams can ask of players. The Browns can’t ask players to be in the building until April 16 unless they are rehabbing from injury, and players coming off injury can only use the facility to rehab and recover. They are not allowed to work with strength coaches for training or workouts.
So a player like Pinkston -- who was thrust into a starting role as a rookie late in training camp after Eric Steinbach had back surgery -- either works on his own, or he doesn’t. Pinkston has chosen to join an Academy where a select group of players go through offensive-line specific workouts. Alex Boone credits Bentley for saving his career. Ole Miss tackle Bobbie Massey has transformed his body after six weeks with Bentley and might be a first-round pick, which is what Bears first-round pick Gabe Carimi did a year ago.
“I’ve seen his before and after pictures,” Pinkston said of Massie, shaking his head.
Now Pinkston wants to join the club.
“He (Bentley) challenges you as soon as you walk through the door,” he said. “You’re not going to breeze through a workout. Its going to be tough. He picks his select guys. I felt like this was a great opportunity for him to choose me and want me to be here and be able to work with me.”
The day Pinkston spoke Academy members were putting five, six or seven 45-pound weights on a small platform that had straps attached. They would then strap the platform to their shoulders and lower back, crouch and bend their knees until their backside was within two feet of the ground and drag the platform across the field and back.
“You don’t come here,” Boone said, “unless you want to work.”
Diet is also a big part of the Academy. Players receive bags with five specially prepared meals daily, meals with a lot of vegetables and lean meats.
“I’m putting all my trust in him,” said Pinkston. “I like it here, so this is where I’m going to be no matter what.”
Bentley texts late at night to give each player a time to report the next morning. Sometimes it’s 10, sometimes it’s six. If they’re late, they don’t work. He knows his Academy is not in Phoenix, not in Orlando, not in a warm-weather site where guys spend as much time out and about as they do working. Guys who come to Cleveland, Bentley said, come for one reason.
“I’m training,” Pinkston said, “and I’m back to my apartment.”
This truly is Pinkston’s first chance to improve in an offseason. A year ago, he got a staph infection in his elbow after his Pro Day at Pitt. He had to cancel workouts for teams, and could not lift much in the offseason, which meant he wasn’t as strong during the season as he wanted to be.
The Browns took him in the fifth round and told him he’d move to guard. But because of the lockout, Pinkston didn’t get his first look at his teammates and offense until July. When Steinbach was injured, Browns president Mike Holmgren approached him on the field and reinforced what he knew: That he’d be starting and to make the most of it.
“My first snap in the NFL was at guard,” Pinkston said of his new position. Across from Geno Atkins of Cincinnati, a guy who earned Pro Bowl votes.
“I was really trying to figure out how it works,” he said of his first few games. “It wasn’t overwhelming. It was more trying to do a good job to keep up with the guys.”
Guys across from him were bigger and faster and stronger, too. Predictably, Pinkston had his best games in the second half of the season. The thinking on him is that he struggled early, but improved steadily -- to the point that the Browns were pleased with his development.
“We're talking about a guy that needs to improve,” coach Pat Shurmur told the media at the NFL Meetings. “But he went in and probably performed at a higher level than I expected.”
Pinkston talks in a manner that any coach would appreciate. He credits Steinbach for helping him every day last season, and said he’d be thrilled if Steinbach were to re-sign.
“Whatever we have to do to win,” Pinkston said.
He called playing between Joe Thomas and Alex Mack a dream.
“All you have to do is line up and do your job,” he said.
That’s a statement right out of the Bill Belichick school. Belichick constantly emphasizes to players that they need only do their job and the team will succeed.
Pinkston said he’s not doing what he’s doing for any reason other than to simply get better.
“I’m excited to see how this is going to change me on the field,” he said. “I can already feel a change in my body.”
Pat McManamon appears courtesy of Fox Sports Ohio