Coach Hue Jackson named undrafted rookie Desmond Harrison the Cleveland Browns starting left tackle, and also said veteran Joel Bitonio is moving back to left guard. Bitonio had played left tackle throughout most of training camp and received every first-team preseason game snap at the position.
Jackson indicated Bitonio being ready to step in if needed would be “plan B” in the event of injury or unforeseen circumstance, but the team’s plan is to roll with Harrison this season.
Why the change so close to the season? Well, Harrison impressed during OTAs, and had been injured early on in training camp, so he wasn’t able to immediately earn the position.
But Jackson made it clear he has risen to the top of the depth chart since getting back on the practice field.
“Practice, watching him over the last few weeks with the ones, watching him in games, obviously he’s talented enough,” Jackson said on Friday. “I think this is hopefully going to be our lineup as we travel throughout the season.
“I feel good about those five guys, I think it gives us the best chance to have the most success.”
Harrison, 24, is a 6-foot-6 prototypical left tackle who looks the part physically and technically. Notably, he will start before No. 33 overall pick Austin Corbett. Corbett had been slated to start at left guard before today’s decision to insert Harrison into the starting lineup.
Talent was never the question for Harrison as he entered the league this offseason. Noted NFL draft evaluator Emory Hunt said he had a higher grade on Harrison than he did Corbett. But according to the Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot, Harrison failed a drug test at the NFL scouting combine. That, along with other off-the-field concerns dropped him from a sure-fire draft pick to an undrafted player.
The Browns decided to take a shot on him nonetheless, and in doing so may have found a long-term replacement for recently retired annual Pro Bowler Joe Thomas.