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Austin Corbett switching to guard may not be so easy

Former NFL lineman Geoff Schwarz says that moving to a new position is not as simple as fans want it to be.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

It has been a long-held believe that people should avoid the topics of politics and religion when talking with friends or co-workers.

Fans of the Cleveland Browns may want to add another topic to that list - the impending elevation of Austin Corbett as the team’s starting right guard.

Corbett, a second-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, is slated to be the first man up to replace Kevin Zeitler at the position. Zeitler, arguably the league’s best player at the position, was part of the trade that brought defensive end Olivier Vernon to the Browns from the New York Giants.

Browns fans have downplayed the loss of Zeitler with three primary talking points:

  • Rushing the opposing team’s quarterback is more important that protecting your own team’s quarterback.
  • Corbett will be fine simply because he was drafted by general manager John Dorsey, who has reached the status of being infallible in Cleveland.
  • Switching positions at the NFL level is “no big deal,” so nothing to see here.

There is certainly some validity to the first two points. The Browns defense needed help along the defensive line, especially after seeing the major drop-off in the level of play last season whenever the starters were not on the field.

Dorsey has also built of plenty of goodwill during his time in Berea, so adopting an “In Dorsey We Trust” rubber stamp for every single decision he makes is understandable.

But it is the last one that should give Browns fans pause.

Corbett spent his four-year college career playing left tackle. While he was “projected” to be a player who could move to guard or center in the NFL, he spent all of the 2018 preseason at left guard and looked, if we are being polite, less than ready.

Complicating matters is that the Browns are asking Corbett to move from the left side to the right, which is not as simple as fans want pretend. That is a topic addressed by Geoff Schwartz, who spent six years playing offensive line in the NFL for four different teams.

In his weekly mailbag column, Schwartz was asked a question that is very pertinent to the current situation with the Browns:

“What is the most difficult position switch for an offensive lineman to make on the O-line that the majority of people think is easy?”

Schwartz’ answer?

The majority of people believe switching positions is easy because they’ve never done it before. Moving from side to side is easy for some, but most often, it takes a while to adjust. In the immortal words of Josh Sitton, switching from one side to the other is “like wiping your ass with the other hand.”

Everything is awkward and different. I had to switch from the right side to the left side (LG) a couple times in my career. It always went bad. ALWAYS. I was never comfortable at left guard. I’d always punch like I was at right tackle and when I was being bull-rushed, I’d switch my stagger to anchor the bull like a right guard, thus allowing myself to get beat inside.

According to social media, switching from tackle to guard is the “easy” solution for a tackle who’s struggling. Not so fast my friend. If an offensive tackle has good hands, generally has good movement skills but might lack some foot quickness to play tackle, then moving inside could be productive. If an offensive tackle is struggling with his strike and punch location, plus has bad feet, then moving inside is a no-go. Things happen fast at guard. Your hands must be ready for action now. And if you miss with your hands, your base better be good so you’re able to recover.

So in short, moving a struggling OT to OG isn’t easy, and it’s rarely the solution.

This isn’t to imply that Corbett can’t make the move and make it successfully. Every situation is different, after all. Rather, it is a reminder that the move may not be seamless and, as Schwartz points out, there is going to be an adjustment period for Corbett. (Quarterback Baker Mayfield certainly hopes that adjustment period is brief.)

The good news is that the Browns and Corbett currently have time on their side, with a full off-season, training camp and the preseason to get Corbett up to speed and for the coaching staff to figure out how to help him when he struggles.

Corbett may never be as good as Zeitler, but that doesn’t mean that over time he can’t become good enough to hold down the position for the next decade.