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Next Man Up: Browns Offensive Line

This is a scouting report of the Browns offensive linemen that could step into greater roles in the absence of center Alex Mack: McQuistan, Painter, Seymour, and McDonald.

Paul McQuistan
Paul McQuistan
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, Mike Pettine had this to say on who will play Sunday at right guard:

"If I had to say today, probably McQuistan, but it's...we'll see. I mean, it's still, we'll get a good look today at it with the repetitions and then the other guy that did take some team reps yesterday as well was Nick McDonald. Very pleased with where he is with his conditioning. I just don't see him, I don't see as it would be a case this week that we would activate him, but we'll be making that decision."

Then on Friday, he added:

"Yeah, it'll be McQuistan to start, but there's a chance we could see Painter, based on how the game goes."

Paul McQuistan

Well, there you go. Mike Pettine said that Paul McQuistan will start at right guard. Let's see how he looked last week coming off the bench. McQuistan is a pretty athletic guy, with good speed and strength, but he has poor flexibility which often makes him resort to leaning to make blocks. He also has only average balance which limits his ability to recover when he's caught leaning. As a result, he is vulnerable to counter moves in pass protection and sometimes has to slow down to make blocks in space, which reduces the force behind the block or even gives the defender a chance to evade it entirely.

On the play shown below, McQuistan is on the playside of an outside zone run (i.e. the run is designed to come in his direction). He does a good job of getting out on the perimeter, but the defensive end beats him to the inside forcing the back to cut inside of his block. I would grade this as an average block -- and it is also the average for McQuistan. A really good block here would have the defensive end either walled off completely toward the sideline or sealed inside and further downfield. A worse block would have allowed the end to slip by or bull through McQuistan and into the running back's path. In the case of this average block, it simply gives the running back an easy read to cut the ball upfield before he reaches McQuistan. The danger here is that pursuit from the backside of the play could catch up to the ballcarrier. In this case it does not.


Here he is on the playside again. This time he does a better job keeping his man to the outside and allowing the runner to cut in behind him but still continue on an outside path to the perimeter of the defense:


Now here McQuistan does a bad job on the playside. Instead of patiently keeping his feet under him, he lunges to reach his block, falls, and creates a pileup that blows up the play:


Below, McQuistan is on the backside of an outside zone run. He's responsible for catching up to the nose tackle, getting playside position on him, and keeping him behind the play. On this particular play he is unable to do that, stumbling upon making contact with the NT, falling a step behind, and getting beaten by the nose tackle who goes on to make the play on the running back. This was not his average play on the backside -- in fact it was his worst of the game -- but it serves to show that the Browns would be better-served to have their superior athletes Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio on the backside of these runs the majority of the time and to run toward Paul McQuistan and Mitchell Schwartz.


Okay, so how about Paul McQuistan's pass protection? He struggled matching up 1-on-1 with defensive end Cameron Heyward. At 6'6" and with poor flexibility, McQuistan is susceptible to lose the leverage battle, get knocked off balance, and driven backwards by strong defensive linemen. Heyward does just that to him here:


Heyward does the same thing to him on this play, but finishes it off with a rip move to release into the backfield:


McQuistan has some struggles when asked to block some of the more dynamic defensive linemen 1-on-1. He excels, however, at providing help to his teammates from the guard position. Here is his typical technique: eyes one way and long arms stretched out the other way to feel for a rusher.


McQuistan puts his hand out to locate the defensive end in pass protection while looking the other way at the outside linebacker and his right tackle. He sees Schwartz get beaten to the inside on the play and immediately responds, taking out the free rusher:


At the start of this play, Paul McQuistan shouts to running back Ben Tate and points for him to pick up #94 Lawrence Timmons if he comes on a blitz. The inside linebacker does. McQuistan tracks the defensive end at the beginning of the play, hands him off to the right tackle, and turns back to help Tate with Timmons:


Nick McDonald

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what about a slideshow of images? I'm not sure, but I'll give you a look at Nick McDonald on an outside zone run before I comment on his skill set:


McDonald has heavy feet and he's stiff in his movements. He has decent quickness but mediocre range. He doesn't bend very well. He's violent and aggressive, playing angry and looking to punish opponents whenever he gets a chance.

He's not a very athletic guard/center but his best trait is that he has very good balance, which allows him to overcome his limitations and play reasonably well in space. His biggest flaw is that his combination of slow, heavy feet and poor flexibility often lead to him leaning into defenders when pass blocking. This causes him to fall off blocks much too frequently.

Below is McDonald on another outside zone play. The center picks up a defensive tackle off the snap, McDonald catches up and takes the DT, and the center releases to attack a linebacker. McDonald has no trouble getting up to the second level, but struggles to maintain his block in the open field.


Pass blocking positives - as you can see in the image below, McDonald's balance allows him to mirror rushers and also to recover and reenter the fight when they get a step on him:


Here we can see another example of McDonald showing off his balance and ability to stay under control while changing directions. The right tackle gets beat to the inside by premier pass rusher Robert Mathis but McDonald comes to the rescue and turns Mathis back outside:


Pass blocking negatives - Due to his limited flexibility, Nick McDonald has a tendency to lean into his man rather than bend to get leverage. This can result in him failing on his block:


McDonald shows off his mean streak, slamming a linebacker to the ground:



Again displaying violence in his play, McDonald comes flying in on a pull and nails the defensive tackle. He comes in at full speed but has the coordination to adjust on the move to hit his target square on. Look at how much he's able to turn the DT aside with the force of the impact alone:


Ryan Seymour

The Browns claimed Seymour off waivers after the final cuts (though since then they've cut him, signed him to the practice squad, and now signed him to the active roster again). Back then, I had the following comments on him:

"The Browns claimed the offensive lineman off waivers from the 49ers. He is a second year player out of Vanderbilt who spent his first season on the Seahawks' practice squad. Seymour played guard at Vanderbilt and that is his primary position in the NFL.

"Ryan an athletic and well-coordinated guard with good balance to move in space as well as decent feet and quickness to gain initial position off the snap. Seymour is an effective positional blocker on outside zone runs with the ability to stay under control at the second level and locate and adjust to linebackers and defensive backs in space. He does, however, have trouble bending and a bad tendency to lean too far forward which can cause him to fall off or whiff on blocks. He is not a rangy pass protector and only should see action at tackle in dire circumstances. Overall he appears to be a capable backup zone guard with some upside."

While I still for the most part agree with that statement, I wish to add to it or even amend it at this time. Upon further review, I'd like to confirm that Seymour has good feet and quickness. He also has good range and agility to navigate the open field.

Currently, Seymour is the only backup center on the roster. I expect he and Nick McDonald to compete for that center/guard spot over the next week or couple of weeks.  I give the edge to McDonald due to his better balance and coordination.

Seymour is a much more athletic guy than McDonald but he's more prone to falling off blocks. Additionally, when McDonald does lose his balance, he has a knack for making sure to get his body between the defender and the quarterback or ballcarrier and at least slow his man down.

In this first video, Seymour (#62 lined up at left tackle) shows what I'm talking about on two consecutive plays:

Here's another video of Seymour (#62 at left guard):

Vinston Painter

Overall, Painter is the best athlete of the four I discuss in this article. He's fast, he's quick, he has pretty good feet, and he has good balance to mirror. He also bends well and can get good leverage without leaning. That being said, he still does lean and even lunge at defenders, which can cause him to fall off blocks. He has the agility to recover from many of his mistakes, but he needs it because he often takes wasted steps when a defender counters and has to play catch up. These things can be cleaned up with further development of his technique.

Another question mark is whether he can hold up versus powerful defensive tackles. In college, he struggled at times against power and that was when facing defensive ends. More concerning is his questionable awareness of rushers other than his primary assignment. As you can see on the film below (Painter is #71 at right tackle), there were a number of times where he didn't notice blitzers to his inside or his outside, even when looking for them. While certainly a negative against him at tackle, this would be an even bigger problem at the guard position.

My Recommendations

I'm most pleased with Paul McQuistan. He has limitations both as a run blocker and in pass protection but his awareness of what's going on around him in the passing game puts him way ahead of the more athletic Vinston Painter. Ryan Seymour is also a good athlete but is less polished than McQuistan and has similar balance and flexibility issues. Nick McDonald has the best balance of the bunch, but is the least athletic. His fiery attitude and ability to mirror rushers are valuable, but he's sluggish and slow, making him a liability on the backside of outside zone runs.

I recommend keeping McQuistan as the starter at right guard and carrying Painter as the emergency swing tackle. Neither of those two play center -- and I like McDonald better than Painter anyway -- so I would continue to practice McDonald and see if he can demonstrate the ability to step in as the primary backup at the center and guard positions. If he's not healthy or his ability isn't up to where it was when he played for the Patriots, then I'd keep Ryan Seymour in that role.