Training camp is well underway for the Cleveland Browns as they look to rebound off an abysmal 2019 campaign. With a new head coach and new general manager, the Browns are looking for a much improved 2020 season. As we continue to move along with our Browns 2020 training camp previews, we now look at the core of the offensive unit — specifically, the interior offensive line.
Browns carry over most of interior offensive line
The starters remain intact
Good news for the Browns as they are now well into their 2020 training camp: They are returning all three starters from the last nine games of the season. With Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio headlining the unit, starting center J.C. Tretter has been a consistent force for the Browns since 2017, earning himself a new contract extension last season.
It gets dicey, however, when taking a look at the right guard position as Wyatt Teller is penciled in as the starter. Coming over in a trade from the Buffalo Bills one year ago, Teller did not see the field until the halfway point of the season after enduring the struggles of Eric Kush in 2019.
After these three players, however, the interior offensive line unit looks to be in some trouble and in need of an upgrade.
Browns hit with adversity early
Interior offensive line full of opt-outs
While the Browns were fairly lucky in terms of players opting out, with defensive tackle Andrew Billings being the only big name to do so. However, Drew Forbes, a player expected to come into training camp in 2020 and compete with Teller for the right guard job, also declared his decision to opt-out of the season because of ongoing health concerns.
On top of Forbes, the Browns had three other depth pieces among their interior offensive line opt-out, in the form of Malcolm Pridgeon, Drake Dorbeck, and Colby Gossett. While all three of these bodies were unlikely to make the team, the Browns had to go out of their way to add camp bodies in order to stock their second and third teams.
The Browns still have starting right tackle Chris Hubbard on the roster after he restructured his contract to stay in Cleveland. Given his size, gifted athletic profile, and starting experience, he will remain a valuable asset as a plug-and-play type of player who can line up at tackle or the guard position.
Browns hit with a big injury early on
On top of the opt-outs, the Browns opened their 2020 training camp missing one of the biggest pieces along the interior of their offensive line. Undergoing a minor knee surgery this offseason, the previously mentioned Tretter has been held out of practices up to this point with no timetable upon his return.
This injury has given the youngest member of the unit, who we will get to next, the opportunity to see starting reps right away.
New additions to the Browns interior offensive line
From the fifth round to first-team
The only notable addition to the Browns’ interior offensive line comes from the 2020 NFL Draft, and that’s fifth-round pick, Nick Harris. A two-time All Pac-12 center for the Washington Huskies, Harris has been given all of the first-team reps in the middle of the Browns’ offensive line in Tretter’s absence.
Noted as a gifted athlete, Harris has displayed the ability to get lateral in Kevin Stefanski’s wide-zone scheme and climb to the second level with ease. While the Browns may have wanted a larger addition, Harris is viewed as the heir apparent to Tretter at the center position.
Making up for the lack of depth
Given the four opt-outs along the interior alignment, the Browns have been active in adding depth and camp bodies at the position. Their latest move was adding former Auburn center Casey Dunn in order to give Harris some relief when needed.
One of the bigger names to visit the team, however, was veteran offensive lineman Ron Leary, but he left the facility without a deal in place. Expecting Tretter back at full health, the Browns look likely to roll with what they have currently at the interior of their offensive line and may add another name or two as teams begin to cut their rosters down prior to Week 1 starting.
Projecting how the Browns will deploy their interior offensive linemen
No training camp competitions in 2020 for Browns
After the decision of Forbes to opt-out, the Browns no longer have much of a competition at the right guard position. While the starting job was Teller’s to lose from the get-go, even with Forbes in the picture, it is even more firmly within his grasp now.
Teller played at a high level at the end of the season, dominating the likes of Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins down the stretch. He’s been a fan of Browns’ offensive line coach Bill Callahan since entering the league in 2018, giving him an even further boost.
Harris, Hubbard to remain on call along the interior offensive line
Given the lack of depth and the overall athletic ability of Harris, look for him to be the first man off the bench for the Browns along the interior offensive line. While he is listed as a center, the Browns could plug and play him at guard as well. Should Tretter be unable to suit up Week 1, then expect quarterback Baker Mayfield to be taking snaps from Harris.
However, if either Teller or Bitonio go down with an injury at the guard spots, we could see Hubbard and not Harris plugin for them. Hubbard has a world of starting experience, and while he struggled as a bookend at offensive tackle, he could provide valuable depth and starting reps for the Browns in 2020 if needed.
If Bitonio, Teller, and Tretter remain in good health throughout the 2020 season, the middle of the offensive line should be suited quite well. But if injuries were to hit them, Harris and Hubbard will be the guys called upon if needed. While the overall depth of the interior offensive line is shallow for the Browns as training camp rolls along, returning three starters with two valuable bench pieces is a solid corps to work with.