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Exclusive Interview with Browns guard Drew Forbes

25 questions with a backup equipped with a starter mentality

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

When the Cleveland Browns drafted offensive lineman Drew Forbes in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL draft out of Southwest Missouri State, the coaching staff envisioned bringing in a guy who had played 35 consecutive starts and had a bulldog mentality who could come in and compete for a starting position right away.

A glance around the league, and it is quite clear that a lot of offensive linemen are taken in the later rounds of the draft. Just with the Browns alone, RG Wyatt Teller was taken in the fifth round by the Buffalo Bills before being traded to Cleveland in 2019. Last year, OT Dawand Jones was selected in the fourth round.

Forbes was a standout for Southwest Missouri, and quite a few teams had him on their draft radar. He wasn’t invited to the Combine, but he really shined on his Pro Day. His 40 time of 4.87 would have been the best reading out of all the offensive linemen at the Combine. Other drills would have placed him near the top in most categories.

Southeast Missouri State v Memphis
Drew Forbes #76
Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images

While at Southwest Missouri State, he was named First Team All-Ohio Valley Conference and was named to the Walter Camp, STATS, Phil Steele, Associated Press, HERO Sports, and Athlon Sports All-America teams following his senior campaign.

Named a football team captain at North County High School in Bonne Terre, Missouri, he had the distinction of being named First-Team All-Mississippi Area Red Conference as a defensive lineman and as an offensive lineman in the same season. Forbes filled out his athletic career by participating in basketball, soccer and was a member of the track team.

Forbes had visited five NFL teams during the 30-visit period: Minnesota, Green Bay, San Francisco, Cleveland, Atlanta, and the New York Jets. He liked Green Bay and Cleveland the best because growing up in rural Missouri, both cities gave off a Midwestern familiarity. These are places where their greetings begin with a “firm handshake.” If you live in this part of the country, you understand.

One might suspect that with Forbes playing for a smaller FCS school the probabilities of being an undrafted free agent would be very real. But not for him.

As Browns then-GM John Dorsey explained:

“(Forbes) would never be a free agent. He is a draftable player. It’s the way he plays the game of football, he plays the game with a passion and a tenacity that is real.”

He had about 65 people at his watch party. His grandparents got to the sports bar an hour early, and now it was the beginning of the sixth round. He got a text from a scout of the Arizona Cardinals who told Forbes that he was trying to influence their draft room to take him, but they chose a receiver instead.

Coming up were Green Bay, Cleveland, and San Francisco, all teams that had expressed interest in him. Both the Packers and 49ers chose other players. Then his phone rings as the person on the other line instructs him to hold for Dorsey as the pick is announced on the TV screen. Forbes had been drafted by the Browns.

L to R: Holly, Drew, Emily, Brett on draft day

Forbes’ sister Holly had a scholarship to play basketball at Robert Morris University and now plays pro ball in Australia. His 13-year old brother Brett was playing outside. He was born with spina bifida and does not have any feeling below his knees. Forbes will tell everyone that his brother is what motivates him and that Brett doesn’t allow his disease to become an excuse in life. Brett is currently a state champion thrower in track and field.

Forbes and his wife Emily are both practicing Christians and welcomed a son recently.

He has played in 13 NFL games, none as the starter. Dawgs By Nature sat down with the Browns’ offensive lineman to find out what life is like competing alongside two Pro Bowlers, if there is a difference playing the right or left side of the line, and if Coach Bill Callahan really is the best offensive line coach in the league.

DBN: You were a multi-sport athlete at North County High School plus had played the trombone in the band. What were your events in track, and what inspired you to pursue a career playing football at the college level over basketball or soccer?

Forbes: Fortunately, I had parents who showed up and supported me in sports and school alike. In track, I threw the shotput and the discus. Being from a small town, basketball was fun but wasn’t an option at the next level. I played soccer for 10 years and loved the sport playing center midfielder then moved to goalkeeper when I developed more length. Soccer was fun just don’t come into my goalie box. But I liked the physicality of football more. After I started it, I was hooked. I liked playing defense because of how much you could hit someone. I had some teachers who told me that I would never get a scholarship playing football and should stick to playing the trombone. That fired me up and quit band the next semester. I enjoyed the trombone until that teacher told me that. Maybe that was the best thing to happen.

DBN: You made All-Conference at defensive tackle and you made All-Conference at offensive line. How was the decision made to feature you on the offensive side instead of playing defense?

Forbes: I had gone to a Mizzou camp and one at Southeast Missouri while still in high school. When I got there, I had gone to the defensive side first. One coach saw me and suggested I go to the offensive end. I went and the first guy I went against I pancaked him. The problem I faced with Mizzou was that at the time my hand wasn’t 10 inches yet.

DBN: You started at left tackle as a sophomore at Southeast Missouri State. That year you won the Goddard Award for best offensive lineman despite others that were juniors and seniors. Where were you when you found out you had won this prestigious award?

Forbes: At the conclusion of the year we had a team banquet. My now-wife then-girlfriend were there along with family when it was announced. The last thing I expected was to win it since I was just a sophomore. I was ecstatic though. Other teammates deserved it as much as I did, but I did feel I was able to make a big leap that year. Playing college was some fun football.

DBN: You were a three-year starter having played in 44 games with 35 consecutive starts for Southeast Missouri State at a violent position. What did you attribute your durability to?

Forbes: Some of it was just stubbornness. At one point, I had sprained both ankles and had cast them both up for me to play. I put a decent game together. The training staff at our school worked well with what they had and did their best to take care of their athletes in all sports. Playing hurt or with nagging stuff is just what you do.

DBN: You weren’t invited to the Combine, but at your Pro Day your numbers were exceptional. Your 40-time bested all the Combine linemen, and your bench press, vertical jump, and 3-cone would all have been in the top 10. After a sterling college career including being named All-Conference, do you think you were snubbed because you came from a smaller program?

Forbes: I do as well as the All-Star games. I got a call from the Senior Bowl the day before the game and wanted me to play in the game the next day because somebody got hurt. I thought that would look rough not having practiced all week like all the other players did. My agent told me to not play, so I didn’t. On the final day when players would be called for the Combine, I was heartbroken that I didn’t get to go. I really overtrained for the Combine. I ran a slower 40 at my Pro Day because I had run a 4.7. You get one chance in front of these guys and I wanted to make the most of it.

DBN: Sports Illustrated did a pre-draft profile on an anonymous player whom they coined as “the most overlooked player” in the draft they identified as “Prospect X”. Then the following week after the draft had concluded they announced that their prospect was you. You haven’t played a down in the NFL and you were already in Sports Illustrated. Your thoughts?

Forbes: I was taken completely by surprise. I didn’t really grasp the gravity of what that was. It seemed so casual to those working for Sports Illustrated, that it didn’t hit me until the second half of that article came out. Then it was “holy cow we’re in Sports Illustrated.” Then it was a total reality check on the level I am going towards. It was the transfer from FCS football to the NFL.

Cleveland Browns Offseason Workout
Drew Forbes #70 and Ethan Pocic #55
Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

DBN: What was your first Browns training camp like?

Forbes: It was trial by fire. I was put at right tackle, left tackle, right guard, and left guard, and I was like, this is a lot of information coming at me quick. I mentioned that, and they stuck me at right guard where I was able to refine my craft at that position and feel more comfortable there before bouncing me around from side to side. It allowed me to get more comfortable with the scheme, but beyond that it was fun. I had a lot of fun. I remember we went to Indianapolis and we would take a golf cart from the locker room to the practice field. Peyton Manning was in the golf cart behind me with cameras following him, and I went, “Holy crap that’s Peyton Manning!” Every day was like you were living the dream.

DBN: After you were drafted, Cleveland scout Colton Chapple stated you were the most scouted player on their roster including bringing you in for one of their 30 visits. What do you think when you hear that?

Forbes: I don’t know what that means. I don’t know what typical scouting is like. I should probably be flattered by that. This makes me curious as to what Colton meant. He came down and met with me, we went through film, he came to my Pro Day, went out and ate afterward, and had a great conversation. I know he called my high school. When I heard the Browns called my high school I went, “Whoa, wow, okay.” Also talked with James Campen who was the offensive line coach then. There was a renewed energy in that building that resonated with me. Of the six visits, Cleveland made me feel the most comfortable although I enjoyed going to Green Bay which had that blue-collar feel. I went to Minnesota in a suit but wore a polo shirt to Cleveland and Campen met me wearing shorts, a windbreaker, and tennis shoes. I said this is my kinda place.

DBN: You played left tackle in college yet the Browns placed you into one of the guard positions right away. At guard, things happen quicker inside, your foot agility is different, and you are suddenly faced with bigger defensive tackles instead of the leaner, quicker defensive ends. How were you able to change three years of thinking and reaction from one position to another in such a short period?

Forbes: I missed tackle. We only short-set in college. And I needed to know how to take a vertical set, angle B, angle A, and these different angles they talk about. And I wish I had a little more training before I got to the Browns. The transition to guard, I like the physicality best. Not that you aren’t physical at tackle, but you are in a phone booth. I put on some more weight and don’t need to be as lean. This past year I am up to 330. With the added weight I can still run 20 MPH. With guard, it is tighter hands and hand placement and everything happens faster, tightening up my footwork, and not taking as much big kicks to get to the spot, but smaller quicker steps like Joel Bitonio does. His feet are firing a million times a second. The more I can be like him the better.

DBN: You are known as a finisher with a high level of toughness. Yet, you are a very chill guy. How do you flip that switch?

Forbes: Being able to impose your will on someone else that is trying to harm the guy behind you, gets me going. That’s fun. That is where I let it all out. All of my frustration, all of this pent-up energy you just let it out on the guy across from you. Then help him up.

DBN: Right away in your rookie camp you competed for the starting right guard spot against Austin Corbett and Eric Kush but injured your left leg in the final preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons. What happened on that play?

Forbes: I was performing a B block, I was planted in the turf and can’t really see behind me or who is coming laterally, and they took me out when I was climbing to the second level. And unfortunately, sometimes that happens in football but hadn’t never happened to me yet. Then went through my first rehab ever.

DBN: The following season was the COVID year and you opted out because of health concerns. When you returned it was Wyatt Teller’s job and the only competition was for the backup spot. You came to camp more fit than you had ever been, but the starting job was no longer an option. Looking back, do you regret the opt-out situation?

Forbes: I don’t. But I also love to see the success that Wyatt has had. It is fun to watch him play football. I think that time I spent away from the field, although it was reluctant, I had the opportunity to grow personally, with my faith and my wife. I got a better insight into what I want my life to look like following football. There is no way I can get myself away from the game. I put a weight room in our barn and was getting after it. I really wanted to be on the active roster that following year. I know I wasn’t there the last year and it was a new regime, but I wanted to make the decision so incredibly hard to get rid of me or not for that backup spot.

New Orleans Saints v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

DBN: Being slotted at guard you are playing with two Pro Bowlers in Teller and Joel Bitonio. Are they helpful to you, or treat you like the kid who is there to take their job?

Forbes: They are both great men. If Joel can help you he will help you. He calls it the way he sees it and when he talks everyone listens. He is great in the classroom. He could sense there would be some ambiguity in the room and would ask the question that needed to be asked to help clarify and facilitate learning. Wyatt is animated, he is emphatic, and he is a fun guy to be around. Both like to see when other guys have success.

DBN: What are the differences between centers J.C. Tretter and Ethan Pocic?

Forbes: They have a lot of similarities in that they are both great centers. J.C. is really outspoken and is another fun guy to be around. I love Po. He is more quiet and reserved. You can rely on both of them, but they are definitely different. You know what J.C. is thinking and he is not afraid to say it. Ethan is all business, and I am cool with that. They are both great leaders, but they lead in different ways.

DBN: What are the differences in playing guard and tackle, and the differences in playing the right side of the offensive line versus the left side?

Forbes: It all seems relatively similar to myself. Whether it is the punching that you do, or the strike system that Bill (Callahan) has developed with us. He makes sure we get quite a bit of work at both sides during our individual drills. Or in practice if they are trying to get us coached up at this position. Like the 1’s will get this many reps then the 2’s will get their reps. Then he will flip you over on scout team to make sure you get an equal amount on both sides to where if you are not a starter, he wants you to feel just as comfortable as possible on both sides.

NFL: AUG 03 Hall of Fame Game - Jets vs Browns
Drew Forbes (70) and center Luke Wypler (56)
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

DBN: Every single season the Browns use a double-digit number of offensive linemen. Is your versatility of playing both guard and tackle an asset not only for yourself but for the team?

Forbes: I do consider that I can play both guard spots has value. I am not opposed to playing the center position although we seem to have that covered with who we got on the roster.

DBN: How is Coach Callahan different than any other offensive line coach you have played under? Is he really the best O-Line coach?

Forbes: If you could break football down into a science, and teach it as a college master class, that is how I view his teaching. The gray area is non-existent. The way Bill details and the techniques he teaches. There is a strike system that he has developed for how we are going to handle this block for this week. Then the footwork that goes along with playing either guard or tackle. Whereas other coaches have given more generalities. He does give some latitude to give you some creativity to your game, but he is going to instruct you that this is the best tool to win this block. It is never sugar-coated. He tells you what he is thinking and coaches you hard, and expects you to know the verbiage. And then go out and perform the technique. That is what OTA’s are for is to groove these techniques. On any opponent, he will coach you on how to handle a specific player. There is a specific game plan for the guards, the tackles, and the center. How we can use our strengths to combat these freaks of nature that we play. Bill is the best I have ever talked to and been coached by. He gives you great tools situationally.

DBN: Which do you feel is your strength: run blocking or protecting the passer?

Forbes: I feel like my pass protection is a bigger strength of mine. The twist games and such are things I could improve on. But 1-on-1 pass rush, I love that. I want those situations and go against the best. I love it.

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

DBN: During off-season training period, what does your daily workout consist of, and what is your diet?

Forbes: If it is hot, you better get your workout done before 8:00 am because there is no A/C in the barn. So I will try to get everything done as far as the weight room side as well as cardio early. The Browns send a workout to us. Following that on our farm, I will work on the tractor for a while and work with hay square bales. Each bale is between 40 and 80 pounds held together by twine, and go and throw those onto a trailer. The most my wife Emily and I normally throw is 400-500 in a day with help from friends and family. Wearing gloves, throwing them is almost like a shotput or discus, six bales high with the trailer that’s already three feet off the ground. There is a pace that you are setting. This is something I have done since high school. My diet is a lot of beef and my in-laws have a butcher shop to process our own cattle. I’m a huge red meat fan. I do have a cheat day where I go to McDonald’s and order three McDoubles and three McChickens. And what you do is you only use four pieces of bread and make two sandwiches out of it. That is how I keep my weight up because my body doesn’t want to be over 300. My pre-workout meal is always PB&J on toast.

DBN: When you go out to eat, what places are your favorite around Berea and Cleveland?

Forbes: Don Ramon for sure. That is a crowd-pleaser. Rosewood Grill is where I went on my official visit so that holds a special place. I got the Buffalo chicken spring rolls that you dip in blue cheese sauce.

DBN: When your son was born, he was almost nine pounds. How in the world did you find a woman to carry such a huge baby, and now that he is in the world, guard or linebacker?

Forbes: I outkicked my coverage. I was 16 and my best friend in high school and I were working on their family’s grandparent’s farm. And on the mantle was a picture of a beautiful girl with red hair, and I asked who that was. He told me it was his cousin and 6’-1”. I said you have to introduce me to her even though I knew I had no chance, but decided to shoot my shot. At first, she didn’t have much to do with me, but I was persistent. And finally, I got a ring on it. The jury is still out on my son playing offensive line or defense.

DBN: We are curious about something. Jed Wills and Jack Conklin both have an injury history and have deals that end this year. You are a natural tackle. Any chance you could compete for one of the tackle positions?

Forbes: I think I am seen as a guard at this point. Jack and Jed will come back strong as ever. They are both unique talents in their respective positions.

NFL: AUG 03 Hall of Fame Game - Jets vs Browns Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

DBN: As a player, how do you keep yourself motivated after a tough defeat?

Forbes: Have a short memory. You need to learn from it, but you have to put it to bed 24 hours later. You are going to have tough losses just like you have in life. But you have to move on from it and learn from your mistakes. But you get better each week after you learn from the previous.

DBN: What do you know now that you didn’t realize when you were first drafted?

Forbes: When I was drafted, I thought everything was brute strength, brute force. Every single play I had to give a million percent effort. But you realize there is a flow to the game. You are obviously giving your effort, but you need to know when to give everything you got, and when to have more finesse. I didn’t have any finesse in my game. I was either a million miles an hour or nothing. I didn’t realize how important finesse was until I got to the NFL.

DBN: What should Cleveland Browns fans know about you?

Forbes: I am working my ass off to get healthy and be as functional as I can get to get back on the field, play some football and put a good product out there. It is frustrating that I got injured this year for me and the team. I had high expectations for myself as I was the strongest and fastest I have ever been. I felt smooth, I felt that I was improving my craft, and had fantastic coaches in Bill Callahan and Scott Peters. They both helped develop me into a player and a better man. All parties were really disappointed to see me go down on the field. To be carted off was scary, to be honest. But Browns fans can expect me to give it whatever I have at all times.