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2011 Position Review: Offensive Line

Posted Jan 20, 2012

The Cleveland Browns had four offensive linemen start all 16 games during the 2011 season.

Overview:

Consistency is a key to success in football.

From the same quarterback throwing to familiar tight ends and wide receivers when he is not handing the ball off to the same rotation of running backs to the having the same five starters along the offensive line, familiarity and consistency can help as an offense grows together and develops chemistry.

The Browns addressed the offensive line in each of the past two NFL Drafts and that commitment to depth was put on display early in training camp.

Veteran left guard Eric Steinbach was slowed with a back injury and on Sept. 1, he had surgery that ended up keeping him out for the entire season. In his place, the Browns shifted rookie Jason Pinkston from tackle to guard and bookended him with Pro Bowlers Joe Thomas and Alex Mack.

While Pinkston competed at left guard, second-year pro Shawn Lauvao started each game at right guard.

Lauvao battled through an injury-filled rookie year and played in just 10 games with one start in 2010 as the offensive line blocked for running back Peyton Hillis’ 1,177-yard, 11-touchdown season.

As Pinkston and Lauvao held down the guard spots, the Browns suffered through some injuries at right tackle. Free agent signees Oniel Cousins and Artis Hicks started four games, including the first three of the season when Tony Pashos was battling an ankle injury. Pashos healed enough to start 12 straight games before an illness kept him out of the season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Outstanding Performer:

Joe Thomas.

Thomas earned his fifth consecutive invitation to the Pro Bowl and was named to the All-NFL team by the Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football Writers of America for the third straight season in 2011.

He has started 80 straight games and not missed an offensive snap since the Browns made him the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.

Thomas cleared the way for a running game that gained 1,531 yards and scored four touchdowns on 415 carries.

Key Number:

Four.

The Browns had four offensive linemen, Thomas, Pinkston, Mack and Lauvao, start all 16 games during the 2011 season.

What To Watch For:

How the Browns address the offensive line in the offseason.

Over the last 13 years, the Browns have selected an offensive lineman in 11 drafts and signed another 19 through free agency. Most notably, the Browns added Pinkston (2011), Lauvao (2010), Mack (2009) and Thomas (2007) through the draft, while Pashos and Steinbach came to the team via free agency.

Competition in the trenches will be a key part of training camp as the Browns expect Steinbach to be ready to play when the team meets in Berea prior to the start of the 2012 season. With Steinbach healthy and Pinkston and Lauvao both having a full year of starting experience under their belts, the Browns offensive line will have depth and experience on their side.