For years, Browns fans complained about the team’s offensive line. However, spending first and second-round draft choices on the two tackles and center have given the Browns a solid offensive line to build around.
Perennial Pro Bowler Joe Thomas has anchored the left tackle spot since being the third player drafted overall in 2007. Alex Mack was a first-round pick in 2009 and has been to a Pro Bowl. Mitchell Schwartz was a second-round pick last season and played well as a rookie.
The biggest question marks are at the guard position. Jason Pinkston, Shawn Lauvao and John Greco are expected to battle for the two starting spots with some push from rookie Garrett Gilkey.
The Browns have 17 offensive linemen under contract and scheduled to report to training camp.
Offensive Linemen: Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz, Shawn Lauvao, Jason Pinskton, John Greco, Ryan Miller, Garrett Gilkey, Oniel Cousins, Caylin Hauptmann, Jarrod Shaw, Aaron Adams, Martin Wallace, Braxston Cave, Chris Faulk, Dominic Alford and Rashad Butler.
Thomas (6-6, 312, 28, 7th year) – What more can be said about Thomas, who has played every snap of every game since joining the Browns at left tackle. He has been voted to the Pro Bowl in each of his six NFL seasons. He is just entering his prime and there is no reason to believe his production will drop.
Mack (6-4, 311, 27, 5th year) – Another durable player, Mack has started all 64 games of his career, not missing a snap. Mack has made the Pro Bowl once and is in the last year of his initial contract. There has been some speculation that the front office wants Mack to become a more physical player this season before extending his contract.
Schwartz (6-5, 320, 24, 2nd year) – Schwartz stepped in and played every snap at right tackle as a rookie in 2012. He played well and appears to be the perfect bookend for Thomas on the opposite side.
Lauvao (6-3, 315, 25, 4th year) – Lauvao started all 16 games at right guard and didn’t miss a snap. Entering his fourth season, Lauvao has started every game the past two seasons. In the off-season, the coaching staff had him playing both right and left guard and it’s unclear if he will remain the starting right guard.
Pinkston (6-4, 305, 25, 3rd year) – Pinkston returns after a life-threatening illness after six games in 2012. Pinkston had started every game at left guard as a rookie and didn’t miss a snap at left guard until he was placed on injured reserve after six games last year. He was cleared during the OTAs and was working at both guard positions.
Greco (6-4, 315, 28, 6th year) – Greco was a backup at center and the two guard positions until Pinkston went down. When that happened, Greco stepped in at left guard and did a very good job over the final 10 games. He played so well some feel he will be one of the starters at guard going forward.
Miller (6-7, 320, 24, 2nd year) – Miller was a fifth-round draft choice in 2012 and he played in eight games as a reserve. He has the size to play guard and tackle.
Cousins (6-4, 315, 29, 6th year) – Cousins played in 14 games in 2012 in a reserve role. In 2011, his first year with the Browns, he played in four games with one start. Cousins has been the primary backup at tackle the last two seasons.
Butler (6-4, 310, 30, 8th year) – Butler is the oldest player on the offensive line at 30. The former Miami (Fla.) product came to the Browns as an unrestricted free agent from the Texans. He missed 30 of his last 32 games with two torn triceps. Butler was a third-round draft choice of the Panthers in 2006. He is expected to compete with Cousins to be a backup at tackle.
Shaw (6-3, 316, 25, 2nd year) – Shaw was on the practice squad until Pinkston was placed on injured reserve and Shaw was elevated to the 53-man roster. He was inactive for the final 10 games.
Alford (6-3, 320, 25, 1st year) – The native Clevelander has spent time on the Browns practice squad and will battle for a spot on a competitive line.
Gilkey (6-6, 320, 23, Rookie) – Gilkey was drafted in the seventh-round this year from tiny Chadron State. The Browns didn’t want to take a chance on him signing as an undrafted free agent elsewhere so they used a draft pick to acquire him. Gilkey was working with the second team already in minicamp. He has the size to develop into a starting lineman within a couple of seasons.
Hauptmann (6-3, 300, 22, Rookie) – Signed as an undrafted free agent from Florida International, Hauptmann will have a battle to find a roster spot.
Adams (6-5, 305, 24, Rookie) – Another undrafted free agent from Eastern Kentucky, Adams will vie to make the practice squad.
Wallace (6-6, 305, 23, Rookie) – Wallace signed with the Browns as an undrafted free agent from Temple.
Cave (6-3, 205, 23, Rookie) – Undrafted free agent from Notre Dame will battle with several other rookies to make an impression during training camp.
Faulk (6-6, 330, 23, Rookie) – Faulk is one of the players to keep an eye on long term. The former LSU standout had a major knee injury in 2012 that knocked him out of the running to be a potential first-round draft choice. He wasn’t ready for the OTAs and minicamp, but the Browns can afford to be patient with him and he could be a find if he can rebound from the injury. Faulk might not start training camp on the field and could end up on injured reserve in 2013.
Summary: The Browns have a very competitive group on the offensive line. They have good depth on the line and the position is one of the strengths on the team. Thomas is the oldest starter on the line and he is just 28, so the Browns should have a solid offensive line moving forward. They need to settle on the guards and let the group work together as a unit for most of the preseason. The line gave up just 36 sacks in 2012, which was the 6th fewest sacks allowed in the NFL.
(Next up: We’ll start looking at the defensive side of the ball with the defensive line)