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Player Spotlight: Family Day Part 2, The Blockers

In the last episode, I discussed what I saw from the Browns wide receivers at Family Day. This time I'll be looking at blocking: offensive line, tight end, fullback, and the field goal protection unit.

G John Greco
G John Greco
Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

OL Paul McQuistan: Filled in for Thomas at LT in the second half. He looked like a starter in the running game and a backup in pass protection. McQuistan was athletic and under control while changing directions in space, which allowed him to locate defenders on the front side of outside zone runs. He lunged, bent at the waist, and did not keep his weight over his feet in pass protection. Selling out on pass blocks like this makes him very vulnerable to counter moves as the defender can get him off balance, gain the leverage advantage, and get by him and into the backfield. Paul McQuistan projects to be a major liability on the edge and should only serve at tackle in emergency situations. His weaknesses would be hidden, however, at guard and if the running game struggles early on in the season he could end up starting there due to his familiarity with the new scheme.

RT Mitchell Schwartz: Was pretty much the opposite of Paul McQuistan. He consistently kept good posture in pass protection -- keeping his center of mass over his legs and avoiding overextending and lunging -- allowing him to maintain his balance well enough to adjust to pass rushers' inside counter moves. Mitchell Schwartz looked much more uncomfortable in the running game, especially on the move, where his stance got too high and narrow for him to maintain good leverage. I wish I could have seen his initial steps to gain position on running plays, but I was unable to from my vantage point on the far side of the field. From what I could tell, he looks to be an adequate starter at RT who will need some time to get acclimated to the zone blocking scheme.

G/C Alex Parsons: Looked the best of the reserve offensive lineman. In the second half, he saw action at LG with the second and third team units. In the run game, he looked quick, under control, and athletic in space but was overpowered at the point of attack at times. In pass protection, he was light on his feet and an efficient mover. Because of this, he stood out considerably from the guys around him (LT Abasi Salimu, C Jeremiah Warren, and RG Keavon Milton) who were struggling to keep their balance: leaning too far one direction and then having to lunge back the other way to compensate. I would consider Alex Parsons an intriguing practice squad candidate with potential to develop into a zone guard down the road...but he's neither a rookie nor practice squad eligible. He has experience as a backup center for the Raiders and has a decent chance to make the roster, unless the coaches are happy leaning on Greco as the sole backup center. I personally did not observe Parsons getting reps at center -- he likely got some work there in the first half when I was watching receivers and defensive backs -- so I can't really evaluate him at that position at this time, though his work at guard and his experience make me optimistic about his ability there.

G John Greco: Uncovered before snap on outside zone run. Greco was at RG with the play going to his right and the nearest defender was DE Calvin Barnett, who was lined up to Greco's right at 4-tech in front of RT Reid Fragel (i.e. Barnett was lined up directly in the path of the play and thus had to be dealt with). He took his bucket step to close the distance to Barnett and initiate his block, while Fragel moved to the next level to seek out an ILB. John Greco immediately crossed Barnett's face and got outside position on him, sealing the defensive lineman out of the play. This allowed RB Terrance West to get outside the tackle box and then cut back inside of FB Ray Agnew's block on OLB Jabaal Sheard (who had outside position) for a 14 yard gain. Textbook execution by Greco (and proper read of the OLB by West), although it was against a rookie tackle and he did get a bit high in his stance...but still, great job, Greco! That's how the staple play of this offense is supposed to look.

Other Offensive Line Notes: John Greco and Garrett Gilkey rotated at first team RG. Joel Bitonio was at LG and looked very quick, coordinated, and ready to start. Mack was at C into the second half while Joe Thomas got the second half off so I didn't get to bask in the glory of his awesomeness.

  • Alex Mack good balance on the move run blocking, kept feet under him, and didn't get too high or narrow.
  • I didn't see enough of Garrett Gilkey to come to any real conclusions and when I did watch him I couldn't see how his first steps to gain position off the snap looked. However, what I saw of him in space after his initial blocks made me question just how agile and coordinated he is "in a phone booth"...which is really important for a zone guard. On one play, he looked a little ungainly after coming off his combo block and then trying to get to the next level. That gives me pause.
  • Joel Bitonio very quick to get out of his stance and get playside position on DT on outside zone play.
  • Abasi Salimu saw reps at LT with the third team and a few with the second. He didn't look good there, but he may have been moved to that spot at the last minute due to Martin Wallace being inactive. Of all the reserve linemen, his skill set and athleticism looked like the second best for the guard position -- though behind Parsons by a decent margin -- and he should have a shot at the practice squad.
  • Martin Wallace and Randall Harris did not participate in the scrimmage and I didn't see Ryan Lee or Reid Fragel well enough to evaluate them.
Second Tight End: Gary Barnidge high in stance and seemed a little out of sorts run blocking. Overall, he looked like a worse blocker but more dynamic receiver than Jim Dray, his chief competition for the second tight end job. Barnidge is considerably more athletic running in a straight line, but neither of these guys look particularly flexible or able to move well laterally. Jim Dray is more likely to get the call in short yardage situations, as he's better at getting low and drive blocking. In passing situations, Barnidge has the edge due to his greater top speed and acceleration: he is a much bigger threat down the field than Dray is. Due to their differing but incomplete skill sets, I don't believe we'll have a true number two tight end but rather a platoon at the position.
  • On outside zone run, Barnidge narrow base in his blocking set causing him to get beat inside by Jabaal Sheard who blew up the play.
  • Dray completely blanketed in coverage by ILB Chris Kirksey on a deep skinny post.

FB MarQueis Gray: His role in the running game looks not to be that of a traditional smash-mouth, lead-blocking fullback but of a positional blocker trying to seal off defenders on the front or back side of the play. He flashed the potential to be a nightmare for defensive backs and linebackers on the edge with quickness and agility to track them down, long arms to corral them, and strength to wash them out of the play. However, MarQueis Gray needs to improve his blocking keys, as consistency is essential at his position.
  • Low and under control on the move to hit moving target ILB Chris Kirksey on playside of outside zone run and drive him out of the play.
  • On outside zone run, OLB Jabaal Sheard got inside position on TE Gary Barnidge. Gray was right there and free to help on the block but instead moved on to find a defender on the edge. The result? RB Ben Tate forced back inside and tackled for no gain.

Wings on Field Goal/Extra Point Unit (I'm referring to the guys lined up at TE position on FG tries)

  • MarQueis Gray and Armonty Bryant looked the best: both seemed comfortable, balanced, nice base to stance, able to turn and catch rushers off the edge. I'd easily give the nod to Gray as the best wing, but the fact that Bryant was even comparable at all was remarkable: he looked like a tight end rather than a defensive lineman! I know raving about the field goal protection unit is a bit silly, but it is encouraging to see these two second-year players take to things they had no experience doing in college, excel at them, and thereby increase their value on an active gameday roster.
  • Jim Dray looked decent but a little stiff at wing on FG unit. Serviceable at the very least.
  • Billy Winn looked stiff and off-balance, out of place and uncomfortable, and like a defensive tackle trying to figure out how to play tight end. This seemed to be more of an experiment than anything else. I appreciate the team's attempt to develop depth on the special teams protection units -- especially given last year's punt protection meltdown against the Bengals -- but I don't see Winn contributing at wing on the FG team this year. Maybe he'll see action at tight end in a goal line package this season? That could be interesting.

Well, thank you for joining me for this installment of the Player Spotlight: Family Day series. In the next episode, I'll look at some of the players on the defensive side of the ball.