If you are to look only at statistics, the offensive line for the Cleveland Browns last season was, it can reasonably be said, horrifying. We allowed a league high 66 sacks, good for dead-last in that department by a fairly huge margin (Seventeen more than the next closest team - LAR)
The primary culprit, at least in the minds of many who grace the virtual halls of this place, is a candidate for this year’s right tackle position, and last year’s starting center, Cameron Erving (pictured above in not the most flattering of images).
To be sure, Erving has had his struggles at the NFL level, spent mostly at guard (2015) and center (2016). In the final game of last season (in Pittsburgh) the Browns, for the first time in his career, played him at tackle, where he flourished most in college, and where his size projects him to play at the NFL level (6’6’’, 311) .
As it happens, the final game against Pittsburgh was also the most extensive action of the year for Shon Coleman, who is the other candidate for the RT spot and depending on who you listen to, the presumptive starter. Time certainly will tell, but today we're going to look at how these two shaped up in their only big league audition at the open bookend spot.
After the quarterback, the competition at right tackle is the most intriguing to me of all the camp battles this year. The Browns made a statement on the very 1st day of free agency this year, signing former Bengals OG Kevin Zeitler to a huge contract, and then inked his counterpart on the left side - 2014 2nd rounder Joel BItonio, to a five year extension as well. To continue shoring up the unit, Cleveland also inked former Packers’ center J.C. Tretter, albeit to a more team-friendly deal which likely has to do with his considerable injury history. Still, that's a strong commitment to the interior of the line, which combined with GOAT OT Joe Thomas makes for quite a formidable unit.
Of course, left out of all that upgrading was the right tackle position. We did draft Roderick Johnson in the 4th round, but presently all signs point to him backing up Thomas. That leaves Erving and Coleman as the default combatants in a contest upon which the ultimate success of the offensive effort may hinge.
All it takes is one weak link to seriously dismantle the effort of an OL, and so this competition is going to have consequences. What follows now is our entire offensive performance against Pittsburgh broken into gifs and focusing on the RT position. Hopefully it will provide some insight as to what we have to work with going into the season.
Before I get all into this would like to point out another wrinkle, and that is the (predominant) matchup taking place most of the day between Erving and Steelers’ OLB, Bud Dupree. Many folks were displeased with the selection of Erving with the 19th selection overall in 2015, and in fact wanted us to draft Dupree instead. On balance, I’d say Erving handled him in this one.
But you judge for yourself:
After the series in which Erving gave up the sack, Coleman entered the game. He had played pretty sparingly most of the year, but was given a chance to get a lot of work in this one.
Obviously you cannot make a full judgment on a player or players based on one game. At the same time, this one game is the only really tape that we have on either Cam Erving or Shon Coleman at Right Tackle. What can be done, IMO, is a determination can be made about whether or not each of these guys can play the position at the pro level. From my vantage point, both passed that test.