In part one of our offensive line preview for training camp, we looked at the team's projected starters. There are 15 offensive linemen with the club right now, so there are 10 left to cover. Today's preview will cover five players, and on Thursday, we'll touch on the remaining five.
Unlike the starters, the five player's in today's edition are ranked in order in terms of notoriety. One thing is clear with the Browns' backups: there aren't any long-time veterans on the roster. Yes, John Greco and Oniel Cousins have been in the league for five years, but I'm referring to the type of guys who have been in the league for 8+ years.
6. ONIEL COUSINS - BACKUP OFFENSIVE TACKLE
When the Browns knew that Eric Steinbach was lost for the season last August, the Ravens had just waived Cousins. Cleveland claimed him off waivers and he made the team as an insurance policy for the rest of the season since he had experience at guard and tackle.
Cousins was supposed to be Baltimore's starting right tackle in 2011, but had a bad camp and preseason, leading to his dismissal. I was surprised to go back and learn that he only played in four games all season with the Browns, including one start (the opener against Cincinnati). It was actually Artis Hicks who saw more action, playing in nine games and starting three. Cousins seem to struggle early on in the year when he was active.
Maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt since he was suddenly playing for a new team and probably didn't get much work in. Cousins has more experience than anyone else among the backups except for Greco, so I think his roster spot is safe. If Mitchell Schwartz were to struggle badly in camp, there is an outside chance Cousins gets the starting nod.
Player Quality: D+
Final Roster Odds: 90%
7. JOHN GRECO - BACKUP OFFENSIVE GUARD/CENTER
People may not know this, but Greco was a third-round draft choice (65th overall) by the St. Louis Rams back in 2008. He ended up making four starts during his three years with the Rams, but Pro Football Focus graded him as one of the team's highest-ranked linemen when he did play. Cleveland acquired him for a conditional draft pick last offseason. Because he did not start in any games, the Browns never owed the Rams a pick.
Greco is valuable because of his versatility. He can play tackle, guard, or center if the Browns need him too, although guard is his primary position. He played in 15 games last season, mostly on special teams. There was one brief stretch in which he substituted for Shawn Lauvao while he was injured (just a few series), and I thought the run game looked good with him in there. Even though I have Cousins ranked higher, Greco could be ranked higher due to his previous relationship with Pat Shurmur.
Final Roster Odds: 90%
8. RYAN MILLER - ROOKIE OFFENSIVE GUARD
The first thing that stands out with Miller is his size. At 6-7, 321 lbs, he's pretty big for a guard. Scouting reports suggested that he might transition to tackle in the NFL, but right now, I think Cleveland will try to keep at guard. Shurmur talked about Miller's versatility when he was drafted:
"We became impressed with him as a big, physical guy," said Shurmur. "We think he’s got some flexibility to play inside, outside, right side, left side."
The Browns had a fifth-round guard start last year in Jason Pinkston, so if Lauvao were to struggle, Miller could end up seeing some playing time there. If not, it'll be good to have Miller on the roster as someone who can push Lauvao for competitive reasons. Miller was considered somewhat of a steal for the fifth-round and was thought by some to be a second-day prospect.
Final Roster Odds: 95%
9. DOMINIC ALFORD - PRACTICE SQUAD OFFENSIVE TACKLE
Alford was picked up as an undrafted free agent by the Browns in 2011. He didn't make the final roster, but he ended up spending the entire season on the practice squad. For that reason, he might get bumped up to the second-team offense this year in camp.
If the Browns decide to keep two backup guards and two backup tackles, Alford could take the other tackle spot (Greco and Miller would be guards, and Cousins would be the other tackle). His scouting report from college says that he is a hard worker but lacked great lateral blocking off the edge. If he doesn't make the final roster, it's a safe bet to say he'll be on the practice squad again.
Final Roster Odds: 40%
Practice Squad Odds: 80%
10. GARTH GERHART - UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT CENTER
Along with the upcoming third part of this series, this is where things start to get uncertain since you have a lot of undrafted free agents or practice squad type players.
Garth is the brother of Minnesota Vikings running back Toby Gerhart. The Browns signed Gerhart as an undrafted free agent, but at least one draft website projected him to go in the middle rounds. NFL.com said, "Gerhart is a high-effort, big-motor player who has the frame to compete for a starting position at the next level."
The Browns have not carried a pure backup center since Hank Fraley, and even then, he saw some action at guard. For that reason, Gerhart could have a solid camp, but I'm not so sure he can earn a roster spot on the team or even on the practice squad. We'll see if he can offer some versatility and play a little bit at guard, where he played 8 games in college versus 27 at center.
Final Roster Odds: 10%
Practice Squad Odds: 25%
That is it for part two of our offensive line preview. Let's finish with another poll: the Browns had a chance to retain Eric Steinbach for depth, but they chose not to keep him. Looking at our depth, is there a need to sign a guy like Steinbach still?