Browns O-Line trying to overcome injuries: 'You can't make an excuse'

Hal Hunter was fresh off a film session that spanned roughly 12 hours before speaking with reporters Tuesday afternoon.

"I watched every single snap of pass protection that we've done this season, and that was a long project," he said, "but you see the small things coming little by little … we just need some continuity."

That dynamic has been something of a lingering problem for the Browns thanks to injuries throughout the season. Cleveland's offensive line has been forced to reshuffle itself time and again this season and, as a result, the group remains a work in progress.

"The offensive line is the ultimate unit. You have five guys trying to play together, plus the running backs have to be in sync with what is going on upfront, and then the tight ends are part of it. I think the big challenge is one, if you do not have everybody at practice, that is hard because you do not develop that continuity then," Hunter said.

"When it is different week to week, you are not playing with the same guys, so when you are playing, you are playing with different guys every single week. You do not really develop any continuity in terms of who you are doing it with."

It started when center Cameron Erving suffered a bruised lung against the Ravens in Week 2 and missed roughly a month while on the mend. He was replaced with Austin Reiter, who suffered a torn ACL in his first-career start against the Redskins. Joel Bitonio, considered one of the best left guards in the league, went down with a mid-foot sprain against the Patriots in October. Now, this past week, the team placed veteran right guard Joel Bitonio on injured reserve with a similar injury.

"The seasons that I have had the most success with the groups have been the seasons that you have had a lot of continuity and those guys just got used to playing together, and when they are playing together, the back sees the same thing happening if he is behind the same group," Hunter said.

"Basically, if there are different players playing next to different people, the back is always going to see something different or you are trying to zone certain pass rush games and you are not used to the guy you are working with, so it is a challenge. That is the NFL in this day and age. The NFL unfortunately is a game of injury, and everybody has injuries."

In their past two games, the Browns have given up 15 sacks, thoug Jackson described as a "unit issue" instead of laying blame at the feet of the offensive line. Hunter on Tuesday echoed a similar sentiment. "There's a lot of things involved in protection and I'm only able to speak to the offensive line but the one thing that's important in protection is it involves the whole unit," he said.

"It always starts with the offensive line, protection always starts up front. And from there, it goes to the other protectors: are the running backs involved? Sometimes there's no running backs involved. Is the tight end involved? Sometimes there's no tight end involved. Are we making the right checks, are we ID'ing the protection the right way? There's so many things involved in making the right protection."

Hunter said the Browns have been good "schematically," but there's room for improvement in technique. It's the little things, he said, that make the biggest difference.

"It's like the Olympics of football, that margin of error is really small," he said.

"It's discouraging and we all know it and we're trying to work at it. We were out here today, we haven't taken one minute of rest. But in the NFL, working hard only gives you a chance. The bottom line is still the bottom line, you have to go out there and perform."

Injuries or not.

"You can't make an excuse. There is no excuse, either," Hunter said. "You still have to be able to put five [offensive linemen] out there each week that you can win with. That is the bottom line in this league."

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