Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Blake Hance has gone from not good enough for the NFL’s worst team to a valuable backup for one of its best.
The Cleveland Browns had the NFL’s best offensive line in 2020, and a main reason for that was the team’s excellent depth. The starters were great, but all except J.C. Tretter missed time, and so did super backup Chris Hubbard. During the playoffs, the Browns were down to the very end of their roster, with Michael Dunn, up from the practice squad, starting at left guard for Joel Bitonio. He played great, but got hurt in the fourth quarter, which led to Hance stepping in as the fifth-string guard. He also played left tackle against the Kansas City Chiefs after both Jedrick Wills Jr. and Kendall Lamm went down.
Undrafted in 2019, Hance spent time with the Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins, and Jacksonville Jaguars before signing onto the New York Jets practice squad in September of 2020. The Browns were desperate enough to sign him to their active roster on January 2nd, 2021, eight days before their playoff game against the Steelers, and Hance was introducing himself to his teammates in the locker room before kickoff.
Hance of course wasn’t great at LT (though $104 million-dollar man Frank Clark generated zero pressures against him), but that versatility in an emergency situation was impressive, and it gave him at least a shot at earning a spot on the fully healthy 2021 roster. He’d have plenty of competition, but most of the players he would be competing with didn’t have playoff experience.
The Browns decided to keep 10 OL on their 53-man roster, but rookie James Hudson should not see the field as a rookie; his preseason play was not that of an NFL player right now, which isn’t too surprising. Backup center Nick Harris also shouldn’t be playing unless it’s in relief of Tretter; his size disadvantage makes him a poor option at guard.
So that leaves three backups; Hubbard, Dunn, and Hance. Dunn is a guard, but did take five snaps at center during the preseason. Hubbard can play tackle or guard, and Hance can apparently fill in at all five spots; we saw him at guard and left tackle last year, and he played 100 snaps at center during the preseason. He wasn’t perfect, as his awareness for the position is not there yet, but he also was forced to play between Colby Gossett and Javon Patterson, neither of which were overly impressive.
Hance did snap the ball quite well which is a great sign, and his run blocking was solid. As the third-string center, things are definitely looking up for him. He is probably also the third-string tackle, as Hudson cannot be relied upon. He’s the fourth-string guard at both spots, and with the Browns keeping only three tight ends right now, maybe he’d also be fourth on the depth chart there if the team ever wishes to trot out a 14-personnel look.
He’s under cheap team control through at least 2022, so Hance will be providing quality versatile depth for this team for the foreseeable future. Ideally, he never sees the field, but if called upon, at any of the five spots, he’ll be more than capable.