Breaking down the Browns' 2017 season, position by position. Today we’re looking at Cleveland’s offensive line.*
By the numbers:
LG Joel Bitonio — 16 games, 16 starts
RG Kevin Zeitler — 16 games, 16 stars
C JC Tretter — 16 games, 16 starts
RT Shon Coleman — 16 games, 16 starts
LT Joe Thomas — 7 games, 7 starts
LT Spencer Drango — 16 games, 10 starts
How was 2017? After adding right guard Kevin Zeitler and center JC Tretter in free agency, the Browns’ offensive line looked as if it might be one of the league’s top units on paper. That all seemed to go by the wayside, however, when Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas suffered a season-ending triceps injury against the Titans in mid October. It was a devastating blow for a young team that leaned on Thomas, who played 10,363 consecutive snaps, and his leadership on and off the field. That said, the group had plenty of bright spots. Left guard Joel Bitonio, whose past two seasons were cut short by injuries, was voted a Pro Bowl alternate and started all 16 games. Zeitler and Tretter shored up the line's interior while third-year right tackle Shon Coleman and Spencer Drango, who started 10 games in place of Thomas, made strides throughout the year.
Reasons to be optimistic? Outside of Thomas — who said recently he’s still undecided if he’ll return for his 12th season (more on that later) — the Browns return Bitonio, Tretter, Zeitler and Coleman. If Thomas comes back, of course, Cleveland will again feature one of the league’s best left tackles. Coupled with new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, running back Duke Johnson and the chance to add top-shelf offensive talent in the 2018 NFL Draft, Cleveland's whole unit is poised to make a jump next year. What might happen this offseason? All eyes will be on Thomas, who’s still weighing his playing future after 10 Pro Bowls and a Hall-of-Fame caliber career with the Browns. Thomas said he plans on making a decision by free agency so, if he were to retire, Cleveland's front office would be able to react accordingly. Notable unrestricted free agents at the position include: New England's Nate Solder, Greg Robinson, Houston’s Chris Clark and Denver’s Donald Stephenson. The Browns will also continue to develop Coleman (who can play both right and left tackle), Drango and second-year player Rod Johnson, who missed his rookie season with a knee injury, in the coming months.