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Browns position analysis: O-line battled through injuries, instability

Over the next week, ClevelandBrowns.com will analyze each position group on the roster with a quick look back at 2016 and an eye toward 2017 and beyond.

The Raw Data

LT Joe Thomas - 16 starts, Pro Bowl nominee (10th time), PFWA All-NFL team

RT Austin Pasztor - 16 starts

OL Cameron Erving - 13 starts, 13 games played

OL John Greco - 12 starts, 12 games played

OG Spencer Drango - 9 starts, 16 games played

OG Alvin Bailey - 5 starts, 14 games played

LG Joel Bitonio - 5 starts

*OG Jonathan Cooper - 3 starts, 5 games played

OL Anthony Fabiano - 1 start, 4 games played

OL Austin Reiter - 1 start, 1 game played

RT Shon Coleman - 7 games played

  • No longer with the team

Others on the roster

Gabe Ikard

Zach Sterup

The Rankings

Rushing offense - 107 yards per game - 19th

Yards per rush attempt - 4.9 - 2nd

Sacks allowed - 66 - 32nd

Contract talk

The following players are restricted or unrestricted free agents heading into 2017:

Pasztor (unrestricted)

Quote to note

"We have a lot of quality players to choose from. I am sure we will draft an offensive lineman in the draft. Once we get the guys that are hurt back healthy, I think we have a really quality offensive line. If you look at some of the guys that got hurt, we really lost three starters that got hurt on the offensive line fairly early in the year with Austin Reiter, who came in and was a starter getting hurt in his first game after playing really well in his first game; obviously, Joel gets hurt; and later in the season, John gets hurt. Really, that is your inside three right there. That is tough for any team to replace." -- Thomas

High point

The Browns were forced to shake up their offensive line for the second time in as many weeks when they faced the Redskins in early October, but this combination proved to be one of the most effective. With Thomas and Pasztor locked in at the tackles, Cleveland used Bitonio at left guard, Reiter at center and Greco at right guard. The team had major success on the ground, rushing for 163 yards, and allowed just one sack. But even one of this group's best days, though, ended on a sour note as Reiter went down with a knee injury in the fourth quarter and was later ruled out for the season.

Low point

In a tight game against the playoff-bound Giants, every play mattered. And the game truly turned when New York's pass rush stepped up and started piling on the sacks. The Giants had seven against the Browns with three coming from Jason Pierre-Paul. The elite end delivered the game-sealing blow when he strip-sacked Josh McCown and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown. There wasn't much success on the ground, either (21 carries, 58 yards). Near the end of the game, Greco went down with a foot injury that would ultimately end his season.

Surprise, surprise

Two days after Erving suffered a bruised lung, the Browns added some depth with the signing of Reiter, who was on the Redskins practice squad. In less than two weeks, Reiter was under center against his old team, the third different starter at the position in the first four weeks. And, as explained above, he played really, really well. That's what made his season-ending knee injury so tough to stomach but, simultaneously, has provided reasons for optimism heading into 2017. He has a bright future," Greco said. "He will be back. Fortunately now, with the medical and rehab advances, he will be able to bounce back and be better than ever. He has a bright future ahead."

Outlook for 2017

First things first, the Browns simply need to get healthy. If Bitonio and Greco can get back to full strength, that settles an area that caused Cleveland the most issues in 2016. The next step is figuring out full-time spots for Erving and Pasztor (if he's re-signed). While Pasztor primarily was used at right tackle, he moved to right guard -- a position he's played in the past -- in the season finale. Erving, meanwhile, finished the season at right tackle, the fourth different position of his two-year NFL career. And Drango has shown the ability to play both of the guard spots. The development of Coleman will be key from Year 1 to Year 2 and there are plenty of opportunities to bolster the unit in free agency and the draft.

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