Cleveland Browns Training Camp 2012: OL Preview (Starting Unit)

Welcome to the club, Schwartz.

To cap off our series of Down in the Trenches, we now shift from the defensive line to the offensive line. Today, we will take a look at the five men who will be in the starting lineup, protecting for Brandon Weeden and creating lanes for Trent Richardson. Unlike the other previews, I have decided not to rank the starting offensive linemen literally. Instead, they are listed in order from left tackle to right tackle.

1. JOE THOMAS - STARTING LEFT TACKLE

8276_mediumJoe Thomas (#73)
Height:
6-6
Weight: 312
Age: 27
Experience: 6 years
College: Wisconsin
Note: Thomas is the best left tackle in football...has a cult following at DBN.

Thomas is a fan favorite and everything you could ever want out of a left tackle. He has not missed a snap in his first five seasons, and his awards include five Pro Bowls and being a first-team All-Pro in each of the past three seasons.

Cleveland fans won't have to worry about Thomas leaving the team any time soon. The front office re-signed him at the beginning of last season to an 8-year, $92 million deal. He will not be a free agent until the 2019 season, and if Weeden and Richardson pan out, this is another key guy to have around for a postseason run. He is almost impossible to beat for pass rushers, giving Weeden something that many rookie quarterbacks do not have -- protection from the blind side.

Player Quality: A++
Job Security: A++
Final Roster Odds: 100%



2. JASON PINKSTON - STARTING LEFT GUARD

8276_mediumJason Pinkston (#62)
Height:
6-4
Weight: 305
Age: 24
Experience: 2 years
College: Pittsburgh
Note: Trained with LeCharles Bentley in the offseason... seems to be on the rise.

When Pinkston was drafted in the fifth round of the draft last year, I don't think anyone expected him to start the entire season. That's what happens when one of your key lineman, Eric Steinbach, suffers an injury that prevents him from making it past training camp.

Pinkston seemed like a liability to begin the season, and understandably so. I thought Thomas and Steinbach had some pretty solid chemistry over on the left side, and it wasn't easy to see that broken. As the season progressed, Pinkston got more comfortable and starting looking like a legitimate starting prospect at guard, despite being an offensive tackle in college.

Steinbach was waived by the Browns after the season. Perhaps it was due to his injury or the amount of money he was due, but I think another reason was that the coaching staff was impressed with Pinkston's effort during the 2011 season. The coaching staff reportedly likes Pinkston's size and strength, and Shurmur has stated that Pinkston got himself into better shape for this season. That might be a result of the training he did with former Browns center LeCharles Bentley after the 2011 season. Bentley was supposed to advise Pinkston on nutrition and watch tape of his 2011 performances. I am not worried about left guard as we enter the season.

Player Quality: C+
Job Security: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%



3. ALEX MACK - STARTING CENTER

8276_mediumAlex Mack (#55)
Height:
6-4
Weight: 311
Age: 26
Experience: 4 years
College: California
Note: Played through appendectomy in 2011...no complains for Mack.

The Browns are getting Mack for a bargain this season (about $2 million), but he is still with the team through the 2013 season. Mack gained even more respect from fans last season after he had a midseason appendectomy and did not miss a single game.

Like Thomas at left tackle, Mack is as sound of a player at his position that we could want, from his mobility to being fierce. I don't know if I recall him having any bad snaps in the Shotgun over his first three years, so Weeden won't have to worry about that.

He has some spurts where he struggles, but nothing to make you think twice about his future with the team (as long as he doesn't get in the way of snaps made by Christian Yount). Overall, Mack should probably get more recognition than he does, particularly within his own division.

Player Quality: A
Job Security: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%



4. SHAWN LAUVAO - STARTING RIGHT GUARD

8276_mediumShawn Lauvao (#66)
Height:
6-3
Weight: 315
Age: 24
Experience: 3 years
College: Arizona State
Note: Seemed to struggle in his first full season...came on stronger at end of season.

Lauvao was a third-round pick in 2010. After starting one game in his rookie year, Lauvao came back and started every game in 2011. Like Pinkston, I had some concerns about him entering the 2011 season, and he didn't start off the year playing at a very high level. Not including right tackle (which was a revolving door), I would say right guard was the weakest of the other four positions. There was even a stretch during a game when backup John Greco entered as an injury replacement, and it seemed like the Browns' running game did better.

Finally, over the final few games, Lauvao seemed to turn things up a notch. In fact, his Week 15 effort against the Cardinals was ranked as the fourth-best performance by a right guard all season by Pro Football Focus. I still have some concerns as to how consistent Lauvao can be in run blocking, so this third year is another evaluation year as far as I am concerned. If he doesn't improve, perhaps Cleveland looks to replace him in the future.

Player Quality: C-
Job Security: A
Final Roster Odds: 100%



5. MITCHELL SCHWARTZ - STARTING RIGHT TACKLE

8276_mediumMitchell Schwartz (#72)
Height:
6-5
Weight: 315
Age: 23
Experience: Rookie
College: California
Note: Second-round draft pick...very dependable, but not spectacular.

There were some higher-rated tackles on the board when the Browns selected Schwartz, but this rookie is being billed as a "sure thing." In other words, there is supposed to be a low risk involved with taking Schwartz. The reward might not be as high as it may be with other prospects, but all the team was looking for is consistency at right tackle; not the equivalent of Joe Thomas.

California Golden Bears, an SB Nation affiliate, said this about Schwartz after the Browns drafted him:

"He's just a solid, dependable guy who doesn't wow you with athletic ability. He works hard, shows up, and does his job. He may not have the bling-bling of some of the other tackles in this draft, but you'd be hard pressed to find a smarter or harder working guy."

Schwartz is known for having a nice little mean streak in him too, and in my opinion could give the Browns the best offensive line in the division this year. There's a slight chance that he will be in competition with Oniel Cousins, one of the right tackles returning from last season, but Schwartz would appear to be the early favorite.

Job Security: A-
Final Roster Odds: 100%


That is it for the starters across the offensive line; on Wednesday, we will move on to the backups. Let's get to a poll: if you had to replace someone on the offensive line, who would it be?

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