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Browns Activate Center Nick McDonald. Will He Start Sunday?

The Browns are looking for someone to step up and fill the void left by Alex Mack's injury. Is it Nick McDonald's turn?

McDonald shakes Brady's hand.
McDonald shakes Brady's hand.
Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE

The Browns offensive line struggled last week in Alex Mack's absence. John Greco was making his first career start at center. Paul McQuistan was in off the bench to play right guard. McQuistan, in particular, had a very rough game, getting blown off the ball repeatedly by standout Jaguars defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks. This greatly restricted what the Browns were able to do in the running game and, by extension, the play action passing game. It also played a large part in quarterback Brian Hoyer feeling the strongest pass rush he's faced all year, which led to an interception and a sack-fumble.

As I noted in another recent article, the Raiders don't have any interior defensive linemen that pose a major threat like Marks did. This week is the best opportunity the Browns will get to figure out what group they want to put out there for the remainder of the season. After this week, the defensive tackles we face get really tough again, starting next week with Tampa Bay and Gerald McCoy. The following week is Bengals' Geno Atkins and after that Texans' J.J. Watt. We don't want to be shuffling the lineup against guys who've made multiple Pro Bowls for their ability to penetrate into the backfield and disrupt plays. "There's no time like the present", you might say.

Last week, I did a mini scouting report on the offensive linemen who could step in and help out in Mack's absence. Below, I've re-posted the section on Nick McDonald, for those who may have missed it and are curious what he brings to the table.

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:


Of the Browns backup offensive linemen, 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. He can play either guard or center, but center is a better spot for him in the Browns offense because he'll be asked to catch up to and cut off the nose tackle on the backside of runs or to get up into the second level and attack the linebackers, rather than the tougher challenge of having to cut off a more athletic under tackle or 5-tech end. Also, if McDonald plays center then John Greco can go back to his right guard position, where he's more comfortable.