Two weeks into the season we've learned a few things about Cleveland's offensive trenchmen. There are some positives, but overall they've been up and down like a kite made out of duck feathers.
- THE GOOD
Nick Harris has been a revelation playing fullback. I was hard on Harris — and the front office — in my preseason roster evaluations. In terms of him playing offensive line, I stand by my assessment of what he's put on film during his three years in the league, particularly in comparison to others who were on the 90-man squad. But I was late to the pier and missed the boat insofar as not considering his usefulness as a run blocker clearing a path from the backfield.
Harris has looked great in goal line, beginning from behind the point of attack. Surprising second-levelers by coming into the gap like Sasquatch running full speed through your rec room screen door, he's able to throw guys out of the play, which allows the back following him to hit the hole like a greased spear. The sample size is small, but it's promising. Also, Harris being used as a diversionary measure in that role has already once resulted in a TD toss to tight end Harrison Bryant.
- THE BAD
Losing Jack Conklin for the season (left ACL, MCL) in week one was a gut punch. So far, the two-week transition to Dawand Jones at RT has been about as seamless as a C-section performed in the dark with dull hedge clippers. There have been many good reps from the rookie, but anyone stepping in this early at that position faces a sharp learning curve.
The title of this subtopic section is more about the unfortunate loss of Conklin than the play of Jones. Jones put out plenty of good tape in training camp and there's a lot to be excited about with him. He has quick feet for a 374-pounder, but he'll need to improve his movement and awareness in space.
- THE UGLY
Stop me if you've heard this before: Jedrick Wills Jr. loses focus, misses a block, then lazes in that same spot — seemingly stuck — like his feet are plugged into the field itself while every other lineman sprints toward the loose ball.
Just prior to week one, Scott Petrak wrote on BrownsZone.com (fantastic reporter, terrific outlet) what Jedrick Wills Jr. said when asked to talk about the team exercising his $14.175M fifth-year option and his mindset entering his fourth season. Wills said:
"Just shows that they believe in me. Just want to make sure that I stack another good year on top of last year."
Another good year? This notion shows the same detachment from reality that GM Andrew Berry has displayed by tying the organization to Wills' inadequate on-field performance. But why would any sentient person expect Wills to acknowledge his own prolonged poor performance and be accountable by correcting his flaws in preparation and technique, when the general manager refuses to acknowledge his own poor draft performance and be accountable by addressing the problem it's created? I outlined numerous ways to take steps toward doing so prior to last year's draft, during the draft, at the end of camp in 2022, this year at draft time, again after the draft, and recapped some of them here during preseason; it's not a new issue that just arose, and it's not the unsolvable riddle that it's made out to be by pompom-gobbling fanboys.
Where Wills does hit it right on the head though is in the first part of the quote. The organization has certainly shown belief in him, and he's noticed. In fact, that belief has given him the impression that last year was a good year, which it was not. He was graded 56th out of 81 tackles by PFF. There are a plethora of other metrics to measure by; none are exceptionally kind to Wills.
He started last season well, but that campaign went off the tracks like a toy train getting kicked across the room in a tantrum. Injury was supposedly to blame for that. But he's perfectly healthy now, and off to the worst start of his career. Apparently guaranteeing someone more than 14 million dollars two seasons away can incite the feeling within a person that they've played well. Who could have predicted such a wild outcome?
As I wrote at the beginning of May when the option was picked up, Wills now has no incentive to improve. Because his money is fully guaranteed for 2024, this isn't a contract year. And with no perceptible ability to motivate himself from within, there was every reason to believe he'd get worse if he was told that what he was doing was good enough.
And though that would have been asinine on its own, Berry didn't stop there. AB told Wills that his subpar play over the course of three seasons merited a massive raise. That's the statement it makes when a front office exercises a player's 5YO. That's evidently the way Wills took it. And the result is exactly what the obvious expectation was to anyone who's been paying attention: more sloppiness and lack of attention to detail, and more standing still like his shoes are tied together while everyone else on the field acts like there's a football game going on.