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Browns Mailbag: How well has Ethan Pocic filled in at center?

Answering a round of questions as the Browns head into their bye week


The bye week has arrived, and so has another round of Mailbag questions.

We're answering five of them as we prepare to kick back and relax for the weekend before jumping into the second half of the season.

Gotta give a "well done" to Ethan Pocic, a free agent who quietly stepped into the middle of the Browns offensive line and has done a very good job! How is Nick Harris doing? Will he be back this year? What is the status of Jerome Ford? - Bob Kaschner, Akron

Pocic is absolutely deserving of praise and has been excellent all year. In fact, one could even make an argument that he should be up for Pro Bowl consideration with the way he's played.

That's not hyperbole — Pocic is second among all NFL centers with an 82.6 grade from Pro Football Focus and is only behind Kansas City's Creed Humphrey, who grades out at 86.1.Pocic has been excellent both as a pass blocker and in the run game and has transitioned seamlessly into the Browns' wide-zone scheme, which features a ton of pull blocks. The system helped maximize the talents of Pro Bowl RG Wyatt Teller two years ago, and something similar might be happening to Pocic, who signed with the Browns this offseason and was initially expected to be a backup to Nick Harris. 

Pocic was the Browns' highest graded player by PFF with a near-perfect 94.0 grade from Monday's huge win over the Bengals. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan was very complimentary of him when he spoke to the media after Week 5.

"Pocic, an interesting guy and great guy," he said. "Works hard. Continues to improve. Wants to get better. Week in and week out, he comes in with a list of questions, whether it is from his previous night's study or something that he is asking during the course of the meeting. I like that about him. He has a curiosity about the position. The one thing I really am impressed about him is his work ethic and how he works hard to improve his technique. He came in here, and our system is a little bit different in the way that we teach it and the technique that we use, but he transitioned well. His ability to absorb these techniques and then come out and start to execute them, that was real progress."

Harris has still been in the building and is working through his recovery from the season-ending torn ACL he suffered in the preseason. We won't see him again until 2023.

Ford, however, is expected to be back soon. He hasn't played since Week 4 due to an ankle injury and is still on injured reserve, but head coach Kevin Stefanski said he should be able to return after the bye week.

"He's getting close, yes," he said. "I could see post-bye for sure."

Check out the best photos from the Browns win over the Bengals yesterday by the Browns photo team

Ideally, we would all love to see Deshaun Watson return and have an immediate impact on the Browns offense. Realistically, he has missed a season and a half of games. It's going to take some time to get control of the playbook (he hasn't been with the team during his suspension) and back up to game speed. Does Deshaun's return equate to 4 or more wins to end the season, or 4 or more losses? Are the final 6 games more of a sneak peek for next year? Or do the Browns scratch and claw their way back into the playoff discussion? - Eric Deliman, Grand Rapids, OH

The Browns fully expect Watson to help them make a playoff push, but the odds of that happening will largely depend on how the Browns do in the three games after the bye week. 

They need to find a way to grab at least one, if not two wins against the Dolphins, Bills and Buccaneers and get back to around .500 before Watson takes his first snap in Week 13 against the Texans. It's no guarantee Watson performs at the Pro Bowl level he did with the Texans, either, after he'll have gone exactly 700 days between NFL starts. If the Browns can't sustain the momentum they found from Week 8, then it might be too late for Watson to provide a playoff boost regardless of how he performs.

The Browns will need more than just good play from Watson to give themselves a chance, too. The defense needs to continue their upward trajectory after a rough start to the season, and any improvements in special teams play would make them even better.

Browns Executive Vice President and GM Andrew Berry said this Wednesday when he was asked if Watson will be able to hit the ground running when he returns:

"We spent a lot of time with Deshaun in the spring and in camp and banked a lot of good reps during the time. That being said, our approach isn't to really any quarterback but certainly with the time that Deshaun has had off to expect him to shoulder everything. That is not necessarily how the team is designed or put together. I don't know that would be a fair ask for any quarterback. In a couple of weeks, we will be in that world where we are getting him ready to play, and we will handle it appropriately."

Are any injured players due to return for the Miami Dolphins game. If so, who are they... Go Browns - Randy Mcdowell, Cleveland Ohio

Ford, as previously mentioned, could be one of them based on Stefanski's comments and could slide back into kick return duties when he returns.

Other injuries include TE David Njoku (ankle), RG Wyatt Teller (calf), LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (knee) and CB Denzel Ward (concussion). Stefanski didn't specifically say any of them will be able to return for their next game in Miami on No. 13, but that's because the Browns will have a nice, long 13-day break before the game. 

"Nothing new to add with Denzel," Stefanski said. "All of those guys are progressing. They are all heading in the right direction. Again, this bye week is helpful that they can use these extra days. All progressing, and I'm hopeful on those guys."

The Browns would love to have any of those guys back with them, particularly JOK and Ward as they go against a Dolphins offense that's been among the league's best.

All of those guys could be in for big roles in Week 10 if any of the players above aren't able to return, but to your point — yes, they showed Monday they're deserving of more time.

Hudson looked smooth when he started two games in place of Jack Conklin the first two weeks of the season, but he won't start again as long as Wills and Conklin are healthy. The Browns could, however, use him more as an extra lineman on certain formations after he executed his job in thunderous fashion on a 2-point conversion play against the Bengals.

Takitaki will likely continue to see a good chunk of snaps at linebacker due to the injuries to Anthony Walker Jr. and Jacob Phillips. He cashed in on the opportunity in a big way Monday with a team-leading 13 tackles and strip-sack on Joe Burrow in what was probably the best game of his four-year career.

Similar to Hudson, CB A.J. Green and DE Alex Wright will only carry big roles when there are injuries at the top of their respective positions. Green, in particular, is still a big part of the depth at cornerback, though, and his interception to start the game Monday showed all the proof why.

First: I never want this scenario to happen. I want both players to retire as Cleveland Browns. We have all seen Nick Chubb effortlessly push potential tacklers out of his way. We have seen the power of Myles Garrett moving OL men out of his way. Who would win if Myles had to tackle Nick? Could Nick create space with a stiff arm against Myles? Would Myles have the agility and power to rebuff Nick's stiff arm and make the tackle?

We're ending with a fun one here.

I would imagine Chubb would be able to fend off Garrett for a yard or two with a stiff arm, but edge rushers typically find a way to make the tackle if they're close enough to chase down and grab a running back around the outside — the scenario I'm envisioning between them. We've seen Chubb shove down quite a few defenders in his career, but we haven't seen too many stiff arms work against Garrett.

I'll take Myles in this one.

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