Blake Hance has been ready to pounce on any opportunity that's awaited him on the Browns offensive line.
Hance, a one-year veteran, has been a vital and reliable piece of a position group that's been hit hard by injuries since Week 1. He's been the "next man up" more than just about any other player so far on the Browns, who have used him at both tackle positions all while keeping him ready as a guard, his primary position.
Now, Hance is back in a starting role as the Browns attempt to reinvigorate their offense. He'll fill in as a starting right tackle for Jack Conklin, who was sidelined with a dislocated elbow last Sunday against Pittsburgh, and has built trust in himself and from his teammates that there won't be a drop off on the right side of the line.
"It's nice to be able to focus on one spot," Hance said. "In the NFL, you've got to be able to bounce around everywhere. So just knowing the work on one spot all week will definitely build some comfort."
Check out exclusive photos from the practice fields at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus of the Browns preparing for their Week 9 game against the Cincinnati Bengals
Comfort has been accumulated, too, in how Hance has played this season, regardless of the position or whether he's been a starter.
He's already started three times this season — twice at left tackle and once at right. His two starts on the left were against Los Angeles in Week 5 and Arizona in Week 6, and his first appearance at right tackle was in Week 7, when the offensive line allowed quarterback Case Keenum to be sacked just once.
Overall, Hance has taken 270 snaps this year and has allowed just two sacks.
"Blake has battled," C JC Tretter said Monday. "Kudos to him for what he's been able to do this year being thrown into a position that probably wasn't going to be his role going into the year but, with injuries, has turned into his role."
Hance has been ready for anything ever since he signed with the Browns in January last season. After spending most of the year on the Jets practice squad, Hance wasn't expecting to still be playing deep into January until the Browns plucked him to their active roster the day before they clinched the playoffs in Week 17.
Eight days later, he was playing in his first ever NFL game: the AFC Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Browns' first playoff game in nearly two decades. He was a third-string lineman that week but was thrusted into action after injuries to both players in front of him made him one of the last available linemen ready to play.
"It was definitely a wild turn," Hance said at the time, "to go from a team whose season was ending the next day to all of a sudden, two weeks later, still playing and playing for a shot at the Super Bowl."
Hance's postseason performance, which included another 33 snaps against the Chiefs in the divisional round, led him to becoming a crucial piece to Cleveland's 2021 roster. The Browns have relied on him at a moment's notice in nearly every game so far this season, and he's tasked with stepping up again — this time, however, with a full week of preparation for just one role.
Hance will benefit, too, from spending the last month exclusively practicing at tackle rather than guard. The adjustment from one position to another is never easy for an offensive lineman, but Hance has been able to practice at both tackle positions due to injuries to Conklin and left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., who's played the last two weeks after missing two games with an ankle injury.
"It's been a month or five weeks now where I've been solely focused on tackle, so at this point, it's starting to feel like that's where I've been for a while," he said. "I don't really have excuses anymore to not perform well."
The Browns agree, and it's because they're confident in Hance to step in and continue to protect the pocket and pave holes for the run game.
Hance has proven their confidence is warranted in just about every opportunity he's received in Cleveland. Another one is upon him, and he's ready to seize it again.
"You've always got to be ready for a situation like that," he said. "I'm feeling comfortable in this spot."