The Cleveland Browns left tackle Jedrick Wills has an opportunity to make a significant step forward in 2021 after playing his rookie season under difficult circumstances. Switching to left tackle in a pandemic shortened offseason where he didn't receive in person coaching until July, Wills was still able to have a relatively successful season.
Entering his second year, Wills shouldn't be thinking about where his feet are going. He may still be mastering some landmarks, but he's likely far more focused on the physical aspects of the position, how to defeat the opponent.
It's really difficult to understate how much the pandemic shortened offseason impacted rookie offensive line class across the league. Players can work on their feet, they can improve their flexibility and agility as well as their raw strength, all important aspects of the game, but particularly with run blocking, they need resistance in the form of another person.
For a position where the goal is to physically control an opponent, there's only so much a player can do to train alone. It's a difficult element to simulate. They need to be able to work on their balance and pad level as another opponent is trying to beat them.
In an offseason closer to normal, Wills will have plenty of opportunity to focus simply on becoming more efficient when it comes to utilizing his power in the Browns zone scheme.
And this year, offensive line coach Bill Callahan will be able to be more hands on in working with him. Until training camp, coaches were looking at videos players had recorded of themselves and trying to teach off of it last offseason. They can do a lot with that, but it's certainly better to be coaching live and in person.
Being able to practice with Joel Bitonio is also valuable. No longer entirely focused on what he's doing, Wills can be more focused on how he and Bitonio can work in tandem, both in run concepts as well as improving their communication when it comes to pass protection.
That's in addition to the physical training Wills has done to improve his body. Wills only turned 22 in May, so he has the capacity to add a significant amount of strength without sacrificing mobility.
The combination of added strength, the confidence that he is a left tackle and now really getting to practice this year could add up to a massive improvement. And if that happens, the Browns could have the best offensive line in the league.
The Browns were not hiding Wills last year, but when the combination of Wyatt Teller and Jack Conklin are on the other side, it's easy to want to run behind them. If Wills does take a big step forward and it creates more of a balance in terms of run options.
The Browns were pretty deadly with a healthy Teller running wide traps going to the left, allowing him to kick out an opponent, sometimes a corner, giving Nick Chubb a ton of room to operate getting to the sideline.
In pass protection, where Wills had some impressive games and some mediocre games, a step forward could alter how the Browns protect Baker Mayfield. The more confidence they have in Wills, the less compelled they will feel to give him help.
In the latter part of the season, the Browns felt more confident in using empty formations. Much of that had to do with Mayfield's ability to operate and get the ball out quickly with only a five-man protection. Nevertheless, added confidence in Wills enables the Browns to expand the ways in which they attack opposing defenses.
Much of the focus on offense will be getting back a healthy Odell Beckham and the addition of players like Anthony Schwartz to give them another dimension on offense, an improved Wills may be just as important.
For example, the Browns did not flex their tight ends much last season, save for empty formations. Their multiple tight end sets tended to have them inline or tight wings. Undoubtedly, some of this follows their philosophy of making runs look like passes and passes look like runs.
Particularly with a player like David Njoku, the Browns may feel more confident in flexing him out to create different matchup dynamics as well as different blocking angles in the running game, putting more stress on defenses. Njoku was a dominant blocker last year and he could be a weapon in space as a blocker potentially on quick screens or crack blocks. That's beyond his ability to contribute as a pass catcher.
Time also played a role. The truncated time frame the first year coaching staff had altered how much they could install in 2020. Erring on the side of caution, the Browns likely focused on being able to protect a rookie left tackle as much as possible. Without that limitation this year, they can add more to the offense, which will include concepts that trust Wills more this year.
There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the 2020 draft class entering year two. Grant Delpit hopefully ready to contribute and players like Jordan Elliott, Harrison Bryant and Donovan Peoples-Jones all growing in their roles. No one is in a better position to improve from his first to his second year than Wills, who could start making his case to be a franchise left tackle this season.