The last time the Cleveland Browns opened the regular season without Joe Thomas as the starting left tackle was in 2006.
That day against the New Orleans Saints, Kevin Shaffer was in his third and final year as the starting left tackle. Shaffer would start all 16 games that season before moving to right tackle the following season as Thomas began his Hall of Fame career.
When the Browns take the field on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Desmond Harrison - an undrafted free agent who took a circuitous route to the NFL - will line up at what has been one of the club’s premiere positions for 37 of the franchise’s 72 years of existence.
After attending four colleges, not playing for two years, finishing his collegiate career at West Georgia and failing a drug test at the combine, Harrison has seemingly seen it all.
The one thing he has not seen, which is at the top of the most important list, is game action against an NFL team’s top defensive line.
That test will come quickly on Sunday against the Steelers and Joel Bitonio, who is moving back to his regular position at left guard, was cautiously optimistic about Harrison on Friday, according to ESPN.com:
“He hasn’t played against some of this competition before, but he’s out there, and he’s fighting, and he’s going against Myles [Garrett] in practice every day, and he’s battling, and he’s doing his best to be the best he can be for the Browns.
“He looks like a left tackle in this league. He plays the game the right way. He plays hard. If you watch any of his tape in the preseason or in college, he really finishes guys. He likes to play the right way. You know he’s coachable; he’s learning.”
It is a gamble on the Browns part to hand the starter’s role to Harrison given that he had so little time to prepare during training camp and the preseason. There are sure to be bumps along the way, but if everything his coaches and teammates are saying about him is true, Harrison and the Browns may come out of this on the right side of the ledger.
Harrison can’t worry about being the next Joe Thomas, Doug Dieken or Lou Groza. He simply needs to keep working to be the best Desmond Harrison he can be.
Which, in the end, might turn out to be more than good enough.