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Cleveland Browns Training Camp 2014: OL Preview, Part 1 (Projected Starters)

Jason Miller

Our training camp preview for the Cleveland Browns is shifting to the offensive line now. Today's training camp preview looks at the players who are projected to start from left tackle to right tackle.


8276_mediumJoe Thomas (#73)

6-6 | Weight: 312
Age: 29 | Experience: 8 years
College: Wisconsin

Note: Can we build a statue of him while he's still playing? Would be a nice gesture.

Entering the 8th year of his career, left tackle Joe Thomas is about to take on a new challenge: the zone blocking scheme (even though everyone does zone blocking to a degree).

While Thomas has always been known as an elite pass protector, his run blocking skills have been closer to average. Can Kyle Shanahan find a way for Thomas to improve his run blocking game?

In terms of streaks of accolades, Thomas has a bunch of them going right now. He hasn't missed a single snap in seven years. He's made the Pro Bowl all seven years, and he's been a first-team All-Pro in four of the past five seasons. He was just voted as the No. 18 player on the NFL's Top 100, and he's under contract through the 2018 season.

Job Security: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%


8276_mediumJoel Bitonio (#75)

6-4 | Weight: 305
Age: 22 | Experience: Rookie
College: Nevada

Note: 2nd round pick... aggressive style of play... coming off high ankle sprain.

Although he played left tackle during his final season at Nevada, the Browns made it clear from day one that Joel Bitonio will be an offensive guard.

The Browns made a pretty heavy investment in him with a high second-round pick, and based on the offseason programs, the coaching staff plans to use him right away. He was immediately placed on the first-team offense, sandwiched between two Pro Bowlers at left guard.

Based on the interviews we've heard so far, he seems to have a great personality -- somebody you'd like to hang out with, which should mesh well for the chemistry factor on the left side of the line. Heading into the draft, here is what Dane Bruglar of CBS Sports said about him:

Bitonio is barrel-chested with good upper body strength to punch at the POA and bury his man, but he doesn’t play with the body control or length to be consistent on an island. He needs to strengthen his lower body and show more of an anchor to hold his ground if he hopes to make the transition inside and match-up vs. NFL interior rushers. Bitonio is a tenacious, stubborn and sticky blocker who is at his best in a phone booth where he can let his mean streak take over.

There might be some growing pains with Bitonio, but the only way to get through those pains is to start him right off the bat. The one concern about his job security would be the fact that he suffered a high ankle sprain during the offseason programs. He is expected to be back by the start of training camp, but if he suffers a setback, he might not be a starter to begin the season.

Job Security: B+
Final Roster Odds: 100%


8276_mediumAlex Mack (#55)

6-4 | Weight: 311
Age: 28 | Experience: 6 years
College: California

Note: Will definitely be under contract through the 2015 season.

Browns GM Ray Farmer went with an out-of-the-box strategy this offseason by using the transition tag on Alex Mack, but it paid off. The Browns are now guaranteed to have Mack under contract through the 2015 season, meaning we won't have to worry about his situation over the next two seasons.

After 2015, Mack will have the option to stay with the Browns or become a true free agent. If Cleveland is contending by then, one would have to think that Mack will stay. If the Browns are still in disarray, then I think fans would sort of be at peace with Mack deciding to leave.

Getting Mack to stay on board with Kyle Shanahan's new blocking scheme was a necessity. The Browns couldn't afford to lose that anchor in the middle of the line, which would have left three question marks at the other positions. With two Pro Bowlers on the line, the other positions have more time to mature.

Job Security: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%


8276_mediumJohn Greco (#77)

6-4 | Weight: 318
Age: 29 | Experience: 7 years
College: Toledo

Note: In four-man competition ...reportedly lost a lot of weight this offseason.

This is where the real competition will be, and it's a four-man battle between John Greco, Jason Pinkston, Garrett Gilkey, and Paul McQuistan. For the purposes of this preview, Greco gets the starting nod, since reports seemed to have him running with the first-team offense during the offseason programs.

Greco started at left guard most of last season, but was a mixed bag. He wasn't bad, but he wasn't as consistent as I had hoped. Will the zone blocking scheme benefit him? It sounds like he's putting in the work to be able to move quicker, which is why I wouldn't trust the 318-pound mark listed on his profile. Here is what Kevin Jones of said about Greco recently:

Greco is keeping it quiet how much weight he’s lost, but Greco looks like he’s in the best shape of his career. Kyle Shanahan wants his interior offensive lineman to have a quick burst and to be able to hit zone blocks -- almost as if they are tight ends.

Will that be enough to hold off his competition? We shall see.

Job Security: C
Final Roster Odds: 90%


8276_mediumMitchell Schwartz (#72)

6-5 | Weight: 320
Age: 25 | Experience: 3 years
College: California

Note: Trying to rebound after disappointing 2013 season... will stay at right tackle.

A lot of us gave Mitchell Schwartz hell this offseason for the job he did at right tackle a year ago, and I still stand by the fact that the criticism was deserved. After a promising rookie season in 2012, Schwartz regressed in 2013.

Maybe it was due to the ridiculous instability at the right guard position (Oniel Cousins) to begin the year, or maybe it was because pass rushers just figured him out. The Browns stopped the bleeding by giving Schwartz an extra chip blocker more often, but that takes a weapon away from the passing game.

The suggestions were that the Browns could move Schwartz to offensive guard this season, but after free agency and the draft unfolded the way that it did, it's been pretty clear that Schwartz will be staying put as the team's starting right tackle. At this point, he has very little competition, and I hope he finds his comfort zone again because we all know the Browns are going to be running the ball a whole heck of a lot this season.

Job Security: A-
Final Roster Odds: 100%

We'll run a poll about the starting right guard position in Part 2 of our offensive line preview, when we look at the guard competing with Greco. Today's poll focuses on how well you think Joel Bitonio will do as a rookie, assuming he starts.