In part 3 of our offensive line preview, we start to look at the players on the back end of the depth chart who will be competing for a backup spot. We'll cover Austin Pasztor, Mike Matthews, and Garth Gerhart today before taking on the other four linemen in part 4.
9. AUSTIN PASZTOR - BACKUP OFFENSIVE GUARD / TACKLE
Height: 6-7 | Weight: 308
Age: 25 | Experience: 4 years
Note: Started four games for the Browns at guard in 2015 ... Has the most starting experience among backups ... can play OG/OT.
The only reason that Michael Bowie was listed in part 2 of the offensive line preview is that he fit in with the theme of the right tackle competition. Otherwise, I would've listed Austin Pasztor as the 8th-ranked lineman heading into training camp.
From 2012 to 2014, Pasztor started 23 games for the Jacksonville Jaguars, mostly at offensive tackle. He was with the Jaguars in camp last year trying to make the transition to the guard position, and when the team waived him at the end of camp, Cleveland put in the claim for him.
With Joel Bitonio and John Greco hurt at the end of last season, Pasztor ended up starting four games for the team at guard. His productivity was difficult to evaluate. He made fewer mistakes than Cameron Erving did, but that was a pretty low bar. Pasztor still had his fair share of plays in which he was overmatched, yet the team's running game picked up at the end of the season with him a part of the lineup. Pasztor will probably be in direct competition with Bowie this offseason for that versatile veteran backup spot, and I think Pasztor is the favorite to take that job.
Final Roster Odds: 50%
10. MIKE MATTHEWS - UNDRAFTED ROOKIE FREE AGENT CENTER
Height: 6-2 | Weight: 300
Age: 22 | Experience: Rookie
College: Texas A&M
Note: Part of a family of famous Matthews players ... Primarily a center, but might be tough to make roster as backup without more versatility.
Mike Matthews carries the family name of some of the NFL's all-time greats: his father is Bruce Matthews, a 14-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman, and his uncle is Clay Matthews, the long-time Browns linebacker.
Anyone who enters camp as strictly a "backup center" is unlikely to make the team, because coaches would rather train a guard to be an emergency center (like John Greco). If Cameron Erving happens to struggle at center like he did at guard as a rookie, perhaps a more stable training camp from Matthews could elevate him into the starting lineup. According to PFF, Matthews is one of three centers from this year's draft class to have not given up a sack over the past two years. Here is what head coach Hue Jackson said about Matthews:
"Obviously, his bloodlines are spectacular, but as we all know, that doesn’t get you on the football team. He has to earn the right to be here. I think he understands that as well, and I think that’s the way he would want it to be."
Unless Erving is a disaster, Matthews will have to show he has the ability to play guard, something he's never really been asked to do. That transition probably won't be successful so quickly, but he should be a top candidate for the practice squad.
Final Roster Odds: 10%
11. GARTH GERHART - BACKUP CENTER / GUARD
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 310
Age: 27 | Experience: 2 years
College: Arizona State
Note: NFL career began with Browns in 2012 ... Started off as a center, but has learned guard position over time ... 27 years old, so now or never.
Even though the "experience" on the right says two years for Garth Gerhart, this will be his fifth year in the NFL trying to grind out a roster spot. When he was an undrafted rookie in 2012, he spent training camp with the Browns, competing as a backup center.
For the next two-three years, he was primarily affiliated with the Green Bay Packers, expanding his body of work to being a backup guard as well. The Browns had him back on their practice squad for most of the 2015 season.
I think Gerhart has come close to reaching that ceiling of teams not being willing to stash him on a practice squad anymore. He is 27 years old and will need to win a roster spot on someone's 53-man roster. Matthews will have a lot more hype at center, but Gerhart might have the upper hand on the type of versatility the club is looking for from a backup.
Final Roster Odds: 10%
Today's poll asks if either Mike Matthews or Garth Gerhart were going to be given a spot on the 53-man roster, who would you want it to be?