Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Cleveland Browns 2017 Season Preview: Offensive & Defensive Line

By Katelin Marshall, @KatelinKnowsCLE

The Coaching Staff
The Running Backs

The 2017 Cleveland Browns' success will be because of how both of their lines play. The Browns spent most of their off-season addressing the Offensive line in free agency and the Defensive line during the draft.

On the offensive side, the Browns signed former Bengal Kevin Zeitler to play right guard and former Packer J.C. Tretter. The Browns made Zeitler the highest-paid guard in NFL history with a five year contract worth of $60 Million and then the Browns signed Tretter for three years worth about $15 Million. Lost in all of that though the Browns signed their own players, giving left guard Joel Bitonio to a five year extension. The Browns offensive identity this season is to be a ground and pound type football team. Hue Jackson wasn't able to run the ball as much as he would have liked to last season because of a number of reasons. Which is why the Browns are willing to spend almost $50 Million this season on their offensive line.

Four out of five Starting Linemen spots are filled: Joe Thomas (obviously), Bitonio, Tretter, and Zeitler. The only offensive line battle during the preseason is at right tackle, which involves, former first round pick in 2015, Cam Erving and last year's third round pick Shon Coleman. And going into the first preseason game, Coleman is listed as the starter and seems to be the favorite to win the job.

Outside of the starting five the Browns have have a lot of versatility on the offensive line. Cam Erving has played every o-line position during his football career. John Greco has been the starting right guard for the past five seasons. Greco has also shown an ability to play center if need be. The Browns also have Spencer Drango who played and started a number of games last season in place of Bitonio. And during the draft the Browns traded up for Rod Johnson, a left tackle out of Florida State. If anything, Johnson might become a practice squad, stash and then develop for a year or so.

Offensive Line Outlook: They will definitely be improved from last season. "IF" everyone stays healthy they could possibly be one of the best offensive line in the NFL. And if rookie quarterback Deshone Kizer starts, this offensive line shouldn't give Hue Jackson and company anything to be worried about.

The Browns defensive line might be the deepest part of the team. With the change to a 4-3 defense the Browns drafted a number of linemen this past April, headlined by the number one overall pick Myles Garrett. Garrett is the prototypical right defensive end. He will be attacking the quarterback's blind side and go one-on-one against the opposing team's left tackle. By doing that it will keep him fresh for passing rushing situations since the majority of the time teams run to right side of their offensive line. Garrett has shown during training camp he's a monster. Seeing him up close is kind of crazy. The guy is a physical freak and the Browns made the right choice taking him first in the draft.

Opposite of Garrett will be Emmanuel Ogbah, the Browns second round pick from last season. His rookie season was a tale of two halves. The first half of the season he struggled with his pass rush and during pass coverage as a 3-4 outside linebacker. But then he was switched to defensive end and that's where he finally excelled. This year he is going back to his college position as a defensive end in a 4-3 defense. The starting defensive tackles will be, former first round pick from 2015, Danny Shelton and Desmond Bryant. Shelton might have been the most improved player in 2016. It also looks like he slimmed down this off-season in order to play defensive tackle in the 4-3 defense. Bryant missed the 2016 season with a torn pectoral. In his three seasons in Cleveland, Bryant has started all 41 games he's played in. He's also the elder statesman on the Browns defensive line at 31 years old.

This is were the Browns defensive line depths shows. First, guys who are most likely going to make this team. Carl Nassib, who showed some flashes during his rookie season while playing with a broken hand. Rookies Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley. Ogunjobi was drafted in the third round and Brantley in the sixth. But the reason Brantley fell to the sixth round wasn't because of play, it was because of an alleged off-field incident that has already been cleared. Brantley was projected to be a top 50 pick in the draft, so its unlikely the Browns will cut him because of the value they got on him. Cam Johnson is another guy who seems to be a lock for this team as a pass rusher. In 12 games last season (nine starts) he recorded three sacks and two forced fumbles. And the last potential lock for this team is "The Pierogi Prince of Parma" Jamie Meder. Yes, Valley Forge's and Ashland's own is a lock to be on this team. Meder should transition into a solid defensive tackle in the 4-3. But his value isn't just on defense but special teams too. Meder blocked a field goal in the Browns' only win last season against the then San Diego Chargers.

Unfortunately, with all those guys as potential locks it doesn't leave much room for guys like Nate Orchard and Xavier Cooper. Both were part of the 2015 draft. Nate Orchard was a second round pick, but in his first two seasons he's battled injuries and playing as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He's in the same situation as Ogbah but might not get the benefit of the doubt because he was drafted by the previous regime.

Defensive Line Outlook: The defensive line is kind of hard to predict. Do they have the talent? Yes. But they are extremely young. And the success of a D-Line goes hand-in-hand with the success of the defensive backs and vise-versa. So if the line plays well, then overall the defense will be pretty good. And with Gregg Williams at the helm, its hard to see them not playing well for 16 games.

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