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Cleveland Browns Training Camp 2015: OL Preview, Part 1

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

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 will start from left tackle to center. Part 1 usually includes the entire starting offensive line, but because of the competition expected on the right side of the line this year, that will be covered in Part 2 with John Greco, Mitchell Schwartz, Cameron Erving, and Michael Bowie.


8276_mediumJoe Thomas (#73)

6-6 | Weight: 312
Age: 30 | Experience: 9 years
College: Wisconsin

Note: Still hasn't missed a single snap in eight years. ... As steady as they come at left tackle.

Now entering his 9th season with the Browns, Joe Thomas still hasn't missed a single snap in his career. Last season, when the Browns were annihilating the Pittsburgh Steelers by 21 points in the fourth quarter, backup offensive lineman Vinston Painter was told to go into the game on offense at left tackle, according to ESPN.

"He wouldn't come out," Painter said. "He wanted to stay in for the end of the game. Usually guys are like, 'OK, I'm done, I'm out of the game.' But Joe, no, he wanted to finish the game out and finish strong."

The streak lives on. It's like the Undertaker's Wrestlemania streak...except we hope that Thomas' streak never comes to an end. The ESPN article goes on to say that Thomas actually tore his LCL in the final game of the 2012 season. He finished the game, but was told afterward that it would sideline him for three weeks. His response? He worked and begged to play in the Pro Bowl two weeks later and was given the go-ahead. What a warrior.

Thomas tasted success for the second time in his career in 2014 when the team was 7-4. Unfortunately, poor quarterback play and the Alex Mack injury caught up to the team. The offensive line is stronger this year and would even have a backup plan if Thomas or Mack went down in rookie Cameron Erving, but let's hope Thomas can actually experience the playoffs for once. He certainly deserves it.

Job Security: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%


8276_mediumJoel Bitonio (#75)

6-4 | Weight: 305
Age: 23 | Experience: 2 years
College: Nevada

Note: Received accolades for strong performance as a rookie. ... Can he get even better in 2nd year?

Cleveland couldn't have asked for a better season from Joel Bitonio as a rookie. A second-round draft pick, he received accolades from several members of the media.

Mel Kiper named Bitonio to his All-Rookie team, saying, "he wasn't just good, he was arguably as good as any guard in the league." When Pro Football Focus crunched the numbers, they named Bitonio to their All-Pro team at guard, saying, "Bitonio proved to be a home run hit from Week 1 and a legit Offensive Rookie of the Year contender."

At first, one might think that Bitonio's success can be attributed to being sandwiched between (or protected) by both Joe Thomas and Alex Mack. While I'm sure that helps, Bitonio didn't suffer a dropoff after Mack went down. Imagine if Bitonio can get even better in his second year.

Job Security: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%


8276_mediumAlex Mack (#55)

6-4 | Weight: 311
Age: 29 | Experience: 7 years
College: California

Note: Coming off of a broken leg. ... Has an opt-out clause in 2016. ... Run game was night-and-day without him.

Alex Mack was building quite the streak behind teammate Joe Thomas. He had not missed a single snap in five years, but his streak came to an end when he broke his leg against the Pittsburgh Steelers last year. The injury occurred early enough in the season to where Mack could recover and rehab well in advance to this year's training camp. The team took it easy with Mack during OTAs, but he's expected to be a full-go for training camp.

Mack and the Browns' offensive line were off to a great start in 2014. Here is what Pro Football Focus said about his performance the past couple of years, prior to his injury:

Mack didn’t just show up for work every week, he performed at an elite level, grading out at +19.3 in 2013 and +17.3 in 2012.  This year was more of the same, with Mack grading out overall (+6.9) as the league’s third-best center, and the best in Pass Blocking Efficiency with only one QB pressure allowed.

It's not a coincidence that the Browns averaged 4.44 yards per carry in the five games that Mack played in, compared to just 3.19 yards per carry the rest of the season. Mack worked effectively in the zone blocking scheme, while his replacements often had defenders penetrating into the backfield before the snap was even handed off.

The big question when it comes to Mack is whether this year is the end for him in a Browns uniform. He has a rarity for an NFL club: an opt-out clause. If Mack has an awesome season and Cleveland doesn't show progress, he can opt out and get a lucrative deal from a contender. If he has a mediocre season, he can stay with the club and still collect a big contract. I hope Mack performs well and is encouraged to stay, but I have a feeling that he'll only return if Cleveland has an above-.500 year.

Job Security: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%

Today's poll focuses on whether you think C Alex Mack will stay with the Browns in 2016.