The Cleveland Browns will have several candidates for team MVP once the 2023 season comes to an end.
On the defensive side of the ball, defensive end Myles Garrett will always be in the discussion, while linebacker Jeremiah Owuso-Koramoah and cornerback Martin Emerson Jr. have been making impact plays seemingly every week.
Offensively, quarterback Joe Flacco will be in the discussion if he leads the Browns to the playoffs, even more so if he helps win a playoff game, while wide receiver Amari Cooper and tight end David Njoku could also be under consideration.
But the true team MVP for the season might be someone who never even takes a snap on gameday - offensive line coach Bill Callahan.
Injuries have hit Cleveland’s offensive line since Week 1 and it has reached the point where right guard Wyatt Teller is the only opening-day starter to not have missed a snap so far this season. The list includes:
- Right tackle Jack Conklin: season-ending injury in Week 1
- Left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr.: season-ending injury in Week 8
- Right tackle Dawand Jones: season-ending injury last week in practice
- Left guard Joel Bitonio: missed a game in Week 6
- Center Ethan Pocic: left last week’s game with an injury, the second time this season that has happened
The seemingly never-ending injuries have left the Browns turning to James Hudson III to fill in as needed at both tackle positions and Geron Christian, signed in late October, at left tackle; Nick Harris at center; and Michael Dunn at guard.
And while they haven’t had to go any deeper into the roster, at least not yet, with the way things are going it might be a good idea to remember that the Browns also have offensive tackles Leroy Watson IV, Alex Leatherwood and Justin Murray on the roster.
Through it all, Callahan has worked to plug the holes and keep everyone ready at a moment’s notice, as Teller pointed out this week (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“I think it really does come back to Coach Callahan and his ability to really bring along everybody. He works extremely hard. He’s going to make sure that everybody’s playing at the best of their ability, which is a testament to how he coaches.
“I remember when Coach (Callahan) came to the Browns in 2020, we’re all talking because we had some injuries and all this different stuff and we had all these different offensive line combinations and coach was telling us that he’s seen it all, he’s experienced, he’s able to, in those times of need, be able to already kind of pointed to it, but the next men up mentality, and when it comes offensive line play, you can get hurt at any time. So you got to be able to push through all that and kind of play at your best, even though there’s a lot of adversity going on.”
Injuries have kept the offensive line from playing at the same elite level as it has in the past, the group is currently ranked at No. 19 by Pro Football Focus, but it played well enough last week that it only gave up eight pressures and once sack on 45 pass attempts against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Browns have been dealing with injuries along the offensive line since Week 1 but remain in the AFC playoff race thanks in part to Callahan’s ability to keep the unit functioning.
For that, he is the team’s unsung MVP for 2023.