The Cleveland Browns have high expectations for rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., and for good reason. He’s an extremely talented player with everything you look for in an LT. However, Wills never took a snap at LT in college, and faces a difficult transition, especially with the shortened offseason and no preseason to take his lumps in. Wills may struggle early, and that’s okay.
Cleveland Browns’ film room: Expect Jedrick Wills Jr. to struggle early on
Wills was a stellar collegiate right tackle
If Wills were remaining at right tackle, he’d be able to hit the ground running. He faced premier competition at Alabama and proved himself to be a dominant run blocker and a fast-improving pass protector. On 970 career pass-blocking snaps, Wills allowed just one sack. Agile, explosive, and powerful, Wills made life tough on opposing defenders.
One of the only problems with his tape at Alabama was his tendency to telegraph his initial punch. It packed a metric ton of power, but sometimes defenders would be able to see it coming and dodge it. In this play, Wills’s punch misses, but his athleticism allows him to recover and still get his guy on the ground.
Moving to left tackle may be a tough transition
When Browns’ general manager Andrew Berry said that “tackles are tackles” in regards to the typical distinction between left and right, he didn’t mean there weren’t any differences and that tackles should be able to switch sides at a moment’s notice. He suggested both sides are vitally crucial to the offense, which is why the team signed Jack Conklin to a three-year $42 million deal. Wills faces a vast challenge in switching sides, which multiple NFL players have compared to “wiping with your other hand“. Even mirroring one’s movements is difficult, and the transition is much more involved than that.
Wills has had his struggles during training camp, with plays like these happening frequently.
Wills looks slow and late to react, and that’s entirely mental. He’s thinking rather than just reacting, and good players (like Olivier Vernon in the clip) will take advantage of that. Wills’ pass set is still unrefined and inconsistent, as opposed to the quick and pristine set he displayed on the right side.
Wills’ first game action will come against the division-rival Baltimore Ravens, who added All-Pro Calais Campbell to their defensive line this offseason. He’ll also have to deal with Chase Young and Montez Sweat in Week 3, as well as DeMarcus Lawrence in Week 4. Wills will struggle, and it’s important to remember that as talented as he is, this transition is not easy for anyone.
Fortunately, he has an excellent teacher to help him learn. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan is one of the best ever to do it and was the architect of the elite Dallas Cowboys lines of the 2010s. Left tackle Tyron Smith was a big part of those lines, and he came out of USC as a raw right tackle before being molded by Callahan. There is every reason to believe that Wills can develop into an All-Pro caliber left tackle; it’s just not going to happen right away.
The Browns must scheme ways to help out Wills Jr
Leaving Wills out on an island is a terrible idea, which is why Cleveland should do all it can to help Wills along. Lining up tight ends and backs to his side is a start. Conklin isn’t elite, but he’s a top-10 right tackle (ask Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon) who can handle things by himself for the most part. Designed rollouts away from Wills can also take some pressure off him, especially since Baker Mayfield excels when throwing on the move to his right (provided receivers get open).
There will inevitably be accusations of Wills being a bust when he gives up his first few sacks, but that’s just the reality of the game. Playing one position throughout your entire high school and college career and then switching in the middle of an unprecedented situation and having no preseason to figure things out – is a tall task. It won’t happen immediately, but the indications point to Jedrick Wills Jr. being up to the challenge for the Browns.