The Cleveland Browns have quite the offensive line. Starting from the center position going left, you have an outstanding mix of veteran and youth to arguably form one of the best trios in the NFL.
As for the two positions on the right side of the line, there is a lot of experience, a lack of youth, and an overall concern as to whether or not the right guard/right tackle tandem can hold things together this season.
In this preview, I did not rank the positions in order of best to worst like I did other positions. Instead, I go in order from left to right, meaning LT-LG-C-RG-RT. Coincidentally, that order also seems to generally correspond to what the order would be if they were ranked. Let's get on with the preview...
1. JOE THOMAS - STARTING LEFT TACKLE
Joe Thomas (#73)
Experience: 3 years
Note: Joe Thomas is not a mere mortal.
Flaws? Joe Thomas has no flaws.
Thomas is the best offensive lineman on the Browns, and perhaps the best left tackle in the league as well considering his age.
As Ryan Kelsey wrote in his review of the 2009 season back in January, Thomas had a tremendous season last year, especially when you take away the couple of plays where a guy like Derek Anderson runs into the area that Thomas had contained. From pass protection to run blocking, Thomas is the total package.
Fans love WR Joshua Cribbs, and there's really no reason to compare the two. With that said, when it comes to the player who holds the most value on the Browns, Thomas clearly stands out. Left tackles such as Thomas only come around every couple of years, and Cleveland is fortunate to have him.
Job Security: A+
Player Quality: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. ERIC STEINBACH - STARTING LEFT GUARD
Eric Steinbach (#65)
Experience: 7 years
Note: Steinbach is the unsung hero of the Browns offensive line.
Prior to last season, a media writer made a bold prediction that Eric Steinbach would fail to make the 53-man roster because he didn't fit the Mangini mold and was undersized. While Steinbach did gain some weight heading into last year's camp, the Browns would have been foolish to let him go.
Steinbach might be overshadowed now by Thomas and Alex Mack, but he still completes what is a very good left side of the offensive line. You could probably make a case that he had his best season since joining the Browns during the 2009 campaign.
Steinbach still isn't the bulkiest lineman -- his counterpart Womack has about 30 pounds on him -- but he's technically sound at the position and can use his quickness to his advantage.
Job Security: A+
Player Quality: B+
Final Roster Odds: 100%
3. ALEX MACK - STARTING CENTER
Alex Mack (#55)
Experience: 1 year
Note: Mack looks to avoid a sophomore slump.
Mack gained a lot of fans with his solid play at center last season, as he handled all of the challenges that the tough AFC North opponents threw at him. I'm not sure if lining up against Shaun Rogers helped prepare him or if his transition to the NFL just came naturally, but Mack is well on his way to being a Pro Bowler if he continues to grow.
It was a steady improvement throughout last season for Mack, and by the end of the year he too was a factor in the team's ability to run the football. While the Browns didn't pass the ball a lot last season, I was also pleased with how Mack snapped the ball during the regular season.
Stealing another tidbit from Kelsey's 2009 review...
And for those still questioning the draft pick of Alex Mack: The Browns were first in the league in short yardage situations where we ran up the middle (getting a 1st down or TD on 93% of the time on 3rd or 4th and short when we ran up the middle).
With Thomas and Mack on board, if the team can add one young player to the right side of the line next season, this unit is going to be blocking strong for a long time.
Job Security: A+
Player Quality: A
Final Roster Odds: 100%
4. FLOYD WOMACK - STARTING RIGHT GUARD
Floyd Womack (#77)
Experience: 9 years
College: Mississippi State
Note: Can Pork Chop hold off the competition from rookie Shawn Lauvao?
I like what Womack brought to the Browns last year, which was a servicable player who could fill in at right guard and right tackle. The problem is that in an ideal situation, he would have a starting-caliber player next to him at right tackle. With Womack and St. Clair on the right side though, teams knew which side of the line to attack.
Womack isn't guaranteed a starting job this year after the team drafted offensive guard Shawn Lauvao. The right side of the line is so unsettled right now though that Womack could inevitably end up being team's starting right tackle, with veteran Tony Pashos moving to guard or Lauvao winning that spot. For now, I'm leaving Womack at the position I feel he's most likely to play at during the regular season, although I think he played a bit better at tackle than he did at guard last year.
Job Security: B-
Player Quality: C-
Final Roster Odds: 90%
5. TONY PASHOS - COMPETING FOR STARTING RIGHT TACKLE
Tony Pashos (#79)
Experience: 6 years
Note: How will Pashos' shoulder injury from a year ago effect him?
A former member of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens, the thought of Tony Pashos starting can only mean one thing to Browns fans -- "hey, that means John St. Clair won't be starting!"
St. Clair had a miserable start to last season, and while he settled in compared to his playing standards, the Browns definitely needed to address the position in the offseason. Pashos isn't exactly a young player, but he fits the bill of being a lineman who can make a difference when trying to run the football.
Pashos was such a popular signing back in March that DBN fans couldn't help but make comments such as this:
When Moses crossed the Red Sea, he was only able to do it because Joe Thomas was blocking the water.
Anyway, Pashos played for San Francisco last year but only saw action in five games before suffering a shoulder injury that kept him out the rest of the season. Pashos can be deemed as an upgrade over St. Clair, but whether he's good enough to make the right side of the line respectable remains to be seen.
Job Security: C+
Player Quality: C
Final Roster Odds: 95%
6. JOHN ST. CLAIR - COMPETING FOR STARTING RIGHT TACKLE
John St. Clair (#78)
Experience: 8 years
Note: The anti-Joe Thomas.
Fans cringe at the thought of John St. Clair starting again this year, but it could happen. Remember, Pashos could always suffer lingering effects from his shoulder injury last season. If a scenario occurs where St. Clair performs better at right tackle in training camp than Pashos does, I don't think you can play Pashos just for the sake of getting a new player in there.
One of St. Clair's worst games last year came against the Denver Broncos, where he was largely responsible for OLB Elvis Dumervil recording four sacks against the Browns. Considering the type of season Jake Delhomme had last year, if he is going to have any chance at redemption this year, he can't afford to be getting pressured that often. Frankly, no quarterback can. St. Clair gradually improved as the season went on, but he's not up to starting quality.
Player Quality: D
Final Roster Odds: 75%
In Part II of our offensive line preview tomorrow, we take a look at Shawn Lauvao, Casey Bender, Paul Fanaika, Scott Kooistra, Pat Murray, Joel Reinders, and Billy Yates.
Before I finish, I want to pull out two points that Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto made this past Sunday regarding the offensive line. Coincidentally, they pretty much summarize this entire article:
9. The coaches said it was more than the backs, it was the line growing together and the emergence of rookie Alex Mack at center. As confidence grew and run blocking improved, so did the line. As the coaches studied the tapes, they saw the line being "very intelligent." Joe Thomas is a strong run-blocker, along with his well-known pass protection at left tackle. Left guard Eric Steinbach added some weight, which helped his blocking. A key was Thomas, Mack and Steinbach played all 16 games.
10. Porkchop Womack received solid grades for his run-blocking, both at right guard and at right tackle, where he started the final two games when John St. Clair was hurt. In fact, he seemed to play better than St. Clair at that spot.
We only have one more position preview post left! Training camp kicks off this Saturday.