The Browns are well aware they have enormous shoes to fill at left tackle, which, for the first time in more than a decade, will be occupied by someone other than Joe Thomas.
Cleveland’s rookie minicamp last weekend offered them a closer look at a few potential heirs to the position.
“There’s going to be some good guys, just watching this,” head coach Hue Jackson said following the first session of the three-day camp. “This is the first day and there’s a lot to see, but there’s a lot to do.”
Jackson was talking about Austin Corbett, the team’s 33rd overall pick in the NFL Draft, and undrafted free agent Desmond Harrison, whom NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein described as a “boom-or-bust prospect who has elite length and athletic ability” but fell in the draft because of inconsistent play and a “checkered past.”
Both took reps at left tackle during the three-day session and got something of an introduction to NFL life. Corbett, a tough and versatile player whom the Browns hope can play multiple positions, started 48 games at left tackle and was teammates with left guard Joel Bitonio in college. Harrison, meanwhile, started nine of 10 games at West Georgia last year, earning All-Gulf South Conference and All-American honors.
Later this month, they’ll unite with their veteran teammates for the start of OTAs. Missing from the equation for the first time in 11 years will be Thomas, who announced his retirement in March following 10 Pro Bowls in 11 seasons. Thomas played 10,363 consecutive snaps before suffering a season-ending triceps injury last October.
While there will be no replacing what Thomas meant to the Browns on and off the field, the plan is to put the best possible combination of five offensive linemen next season. For starters, Jackson said the team will allow multiple players to have cracks at left tackle, including Corbett, Harrison, third-year tackle Shon Coleman (who started 16 games on the right side in 2017) and veteran Donald Stephenson.
Corbett, one of the draft’s top offensive linemen, knows filling in for Thomas is no small task. He learned about the future Hall-of-Famer from Bitonio and conducted his own research about Thomas in the process.
“When you play [10,363] consecutive snaps, that just says something to who you are and how you can push through things,” Corbett said. “The offensive line, they’re going to get banged up but to push through that and get those things done, that’s just incredible."
“As far as it goes in being ‘the next Joe Thomas,’ that is just a rare, rare human there,” he continued. “If I can learn from him and follow in his footsteps, that’s just amazing.”
Regardless, Jackson hopes the Browns have more clarity sooner than later.
“The thing that I think is really important is that there are enough guys there at the position,” he said, “hopefully, that we can find someone to play it and be the guy.”