Browns Have Put Together Solid Offensive Line Depth, Overall Unit In Good Position
The Cleveland Browns entered the offseason with apparent needs at both offensive tackle positions, addressing one with an impact signing, adding Jack Conklin at right tackle. They still have to address left tackle, likely coming with their first pick in the NFL Draft, but in the mean time, they've quietly put together a nice offensive line group overall, having both the starting talent to win up front and the depth for competition and in case of injury. It's just a matter of figuring out which tackle they're going to draft to finish the group.
In addition to Conklin, the Browns have their starting left guard and center in Joel Bitonio and J.C. Tretter respectively. They also have two talented options to compete at right guard in Wyatt Teller and Drew Forbes, both still on rookie contracts. The team was able to come to an agreement for a restructured deal with Chris Hubbard, keeping him as a backup option, presumably focused on right tackle, which would make Kendall Lamm their primary option at left tackle. The team signed Evan Brown to give them another center. That gives the Browns eight offensive linemen they could easily carry into the regular season with the ninth being whoever they draft at left tackle.
The Browns are going to be open minded and won't turn down an opportunity to get better, but save for the left tackle they add in the draft, they could quite easily focus entirely on the group they have now without making any further moves.
The eight players they have fit the wide zone scheme they wish to employ. Tretter, Bitonio and Conklin are three of the best athletes at their respective positions in the entire league while Teller, Forbes and Brown all have excellent athleticism and movement skills. Lamm and Hubbard are tackles that don't offer much raw power, are positional blockers anyway, so a heavy zone focus is their best chance to be effective in that aspect of the game.
Between the rookie they draft as well as the combination of Brown, Teller and Forbes, offensive line coach Bill Callahan will have a nice stable of young players to groom and develop. The higher end players could be in for the best seasons in their career if they buy into what he's teaching.
Obviously, the right guard job will be a competition. Teller was adequate last season, better than he got credit for considering the circumstances. The hope is he can get better in his second season with the Browns. He was acquired via trade just as the season was starting last year, asked to flip from left guard to right guard during the season and and about two months into that switch, he was pressed into action, replacing Eric Kush. He's still a young player with room to improve, but just being more comfortable at right guard should benefit him. The major area Teller has to improve is his run blocking. Weight room strong, Teller needs to show more functional strength as a run blocker, which largely comes down to technique and flexibility, effectively employing his hip explosion.
Forbes was a tackle in college and was moved around as a rookie before suffering a knee injury that largely snuffed out his rookie season. He is the prototypical guard for a zone scheme in terms of size, strength and athleticism. The issue for him was coming out of a small program in Southeast Missouri State, adjusting to the speed of the NFL and switching positions as it was never truly settled his rookie year. From a physical standpoint, he has the tools to be an elite guard, so if he develops under the guidance of Callahan, he would give the Browns an imposing right side playing between Tretter and Conklin, offering them more power in addition to speed and mobility.
There's been suggestion that Hubbard could be a factor at right guard, which is a massive stretch when considering what Hubbard does and doesn't do well. He's a positional blocker that excels when he's able to reach block or win with mobility. Hubbard struggles with power and gets caved in too often at right tackle. It would be even worse at guard, not unlike what the offense looked like with Eric Kush at right guard.
Evan Brown is entering his third season in the NFL after he was an undrafted free agent out of Southern Methodist. An excellent athlete for center or guard, he has experience at left guard in addition to the pivot. Brown is still young and still developing but between working behind Tretter and getting coached by Callahan, he might be in as enviable an environment to learn and develop as any in the league.
No one is going to accuse the tandem of Lamm and Hubbard as being an exciting one, but when looking around the league at how mediocre backup tackle situations are in the NFL, the Browns have done well for themselves by contrast. Being able to get Hubbard to agree to a restructured contract to keep with the Browns was a win. Hubbard now makes $2.15 million as his base salary with incentives based on playing time that could increase it to $5 million. In essence, Hubbard has to win a job and play 90 percent of snaps to get the full $5 million. Lamm only making $2.65 million for 2020 that could increase to $2.85 million if he hits a hits a per game roster bonus.
The Browns are sticking to their principles of not paying for depth. They have young talent that Callahan can work with and develop. If they can get even a solid left tackle with their top pick, they'll have the talent up front to have one of the better offensive lines in the league, enabling them to do everything they plan for on the offensive side of the ball. They can still make a move if they see fit, but whenever the NFL is able to get on the practice field, the Browns will be in a pretty good spot on the offensive line and the offense in general.