In Part 3 of our offensive line preview for Cleveland Browns training camp, we look at the abundance of players who are competing for the backup center job in 2017.
9. Anthony Fabiano - Backup Center/Guard
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 303 lbs | Age: 23
Experience: 1 year | College: Harvard
Fabiano was an undrafted free agent last year with the Baltimore Ravens. When he didn’t make their 53-man roster, the Browns signed him to their 10-man practice squad at the beginning of the season. A few months later, after Austin Reiter suffered a torn ACL in his one start, the team promoted Fabiano to the 53-man roster. He eventually started the team’s Week 17 game at center.
Fabiano showed off his versatility in college by starting at every position except center. He’s also a Harvard grad, which I’m sure earns him a few brownie points with Cleveland’s front office. Prior to last year’s draft, Dane Brugler of CBS Sports said, “Fabiano has a squatty, wide body with the initial quickness to set-up and sit in his stance to engage defenders, using his strong hands to keep rushers from his body.”
As far as Fabiano’s one start went, it was not a highlight-reel day for him, as he had a high snap that led to a fumble (and the Steelers' first touchdown), and he also allowed a sack.
Final Roster Odds: 40%
10. Austin Reiter - Hopeful Center Before ACL Injury
Height: 6-2 | Weight: 300 lbs | Age: 25
Experience: 2 years | College: South Florida
Last year, an early-season injury forced Cameron Erving out of the starting lineup at center. The team was forced to shift starting right guard John Greco over to center, and then as an extra insurance policy, they added Reiter to their 53-man roster.
Reiter was originally a seventh-round draft pick by the Washington Redskins in 2015. He was on the Redskins’ practice squad at the time when Cleveland poached him, and within two weeks, the club made the decision to start Reiter against the his former team in Washington (Week 4). Late in the game, Reiter suffered a torn ACL, which is why coaches have had him taking things easy this offseason.
Reiter is at a disadvantage in the fact that he’s coming back from a knee injury while having had minimal experience at the NFL level. However, it is worth noting that he’s passed the eye test a couple of times. Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus made the case that he should’ve started when Washington had him:
Still think the best center on the Washington roster is Austin Reiter. Looked it in preseason last year, training camp and now vs Atlanta.— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) August 12, 2016
Although he played just 59 snaps for the Browns before tearing his ACL, after that game, head coach Hue Jackson complimented Reiter's effort, saying he "did an outstanding job" and that it was "unfortunate he got hurt." Here is one taste of the job he did on a day when Cleveland’s offensive line finally seemed to “click” with a competent-looking center:
Some more highlights of Reiter’s blocking are here. Despite the fact that he was coming off a torn ACL, if the Browns had not signed J.C. Tretter this offseason, I would have been campaigning hard for Reiter to be the Browns’ center in 2017. The number of bodies in camp, plus his injury, keeps his percentage on par with Fabiano for now.
Final Roster Odds: 40%
11. Marcus Martin - Veteran Backup Center
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 310 lbs | Age: 23
Experience: 4 years | College: USC
How many of you have heard of Martin? If you didn’t know his name, then you might be even more surprised that he has the most starting experience on the Browns at the center position by far. The move went a bit under-the-radar because it happened on Day 1 of free agency after the team had already signed Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter — buried in the headlines was the fact that Cleveland had claimed Martin off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers.
Martin was a third-round pick in 2014 by San Francisco, where he started 24 games over three years with the club (Martin's reign included 8 starts in 2014, 14 starts in 2015, and then just 2 starts in 2016). Also interesting is the fact that Martin was the center at USC for potential Browns starting quarterback Cody Kessler.
As we all know, though, just looking at number of starts doesn't tell the story of a player's quality (i.e. Cam Erving has 17 starts between 2 positions in the NFL). Unfortunately, it sounds like Martin was dead-on-arrival as far as productivity in the NFL, going off of these beyond-awful grades that Pro Football Focus has on him (courtesy of Niners Nation):
- 2014 overall grade: 39.0 (37th of 41 centers)
- 2015: 34.5 (38/40) (dead last in run block grade)
- 2016: 39.1 (not enough snaps to qualify for rankings)
- In 26 career games he only has one game with an overall positive grade
I think Reiter or Fabiano win a spot over Martin.
Final Roster Odds: 10%
12. Gabe Ikard - Veteran Backup Center
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 300 lbs | Age: 26
Experience: 4 years | College: Oklahoma
Ikard was an undrafted free agent in 2014 with the Tennessee Titans. He spent all of 2014 on injured reserve with a knee injury, and after he didn't make the Titans' roster at the start of 2015, the Buffalo Bills claimed him off waivers. He was a reserve lineman for Buffalo that year, making appearances in three games; Cleveland then added him to their roster for one week in December 2015 after Joel Bitonio had gone on injured reserve.
In 2016, the Browns claimed Ikard off waivers from the Bills after C Cameron Erving had to leave a game with an “illness.” Ikard was listed as the team’s backup center for a stretch of time, but didn’t end up seeing any action. Scouting reports on Ikard credit him with strong hands and intelligence, but pan him for his athleticism and strength.
Final Roster Odds: 10%
Our poll for today’s preview asks about your favorite player among these four candidates.
Which player do you think should win the backup center job (assuming the team carries one on the roster)?
This poll is closed