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Senior Bowl

Is the Browns' next left tackle at the 2019 Senior Bowl?

MOBILE, Alabama -- Andre Dillard is a skinny kid trapped inside the body of a prototypical NFL left tackle.

Dillard was all of 240 pounds when he arrived at Washington State five years ago. Methodically, he packed on the pounds through a combination of hard work in the weight room and a strict diet that included middle-of-the-night protein shakes.

On Tuesday, standing before hundreds of scouts and player personnel executives from the NFL and beyond, Dillard tipped the scales at 310 pounds.

It took years for Dillard to look the part of an NFL tackle. More importantly, Dillard played the part throughout a banner senior season in which he earned All-Pac 12 first team honors.

"Before my senior year started, I said to myself, 'OK, I have to prove myself this year. This is the big year for me. THis is the start of my job application,'" Dillard said Tuesday before his first practice at the 2019 Senior Bowl. "I've always believed in myself and tried to stay humble through it."

There are plenty of scouts and draft analysts who believe Dillard has first-round potential. NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah considers Dillard to be the best pass-protecting tackle in this year's draft class, ranking him as the 12th-best overall prospect, regardless of position.

"In pass protection, he explodes out of his stance and plays with tremendous knee bend, patience and balance," Jeremiah writes. "He shoots his hands in tight and can redirect with very little effort. When opponents get into his chest, he is quick to re-work his hands and regain leverage. In the run game, he is more of a finesse, wall-off player than a people-mover. He has the athleticism to work up to the second level and I believe he'll be effective on outside pulls. 

"Overall, Dillard is a pure, pass-protecting left tackle. Yes, he needs to get stronger and more physical, but in a passing league, what he does best is highly coveted."

The Browns are set to return the majority of an offensive line that got better and better as the season progressed. There's just a little bit of uncertainty at left tackle, a position that's been a bit in flux since future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas' retirement.

Undrafted rookie Desmond Harrison emerged as the starter at the end of a 2018 preseason that featured Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio taking weeks of snaps at the position. Greg Robinson, the former No. 2 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft who was released by both the Rams and Lions before signing with the Browns in May, emerged as the starter at the midpoint of the season after Harrison fell ill. Robinson took the opportunity and ran with it, playing a big role in Cleveland's resurgent second half of the season. The Browns allowed 33 sacks in the first half of the year and just five in the final eight games.

Harrison will be back, but Robinson is set to be a free agent. The Browns have expressed interest in bringing him back, and Robinson has said he'd like to return, but nothing is set in stone at this point of the offseason.

Regardless if Robinson re-signs, the Browns could still be in the market for a player like Dillard or one of the top-ranked left tackles who aren't at the Senior Bowl, such as Alabama's Jonah Williams, Ole Miss' Greg Little, Oklahoma's Cody Ford or Florida's Jawaan Taylor. There are also some lower-ranked left tackles with upside at the Senior Bowl who could entice the Browns after the first round, such as Alabama State's Tytus Howard, USC's Chuma Edoga or South Carolina's Dennis Daley.

That's what makes a week like this so important for Dillard, who, among other things, is working out of a three-point stance for the first time in his life as he looks to show off his adaptability to the kind of offensive schemes he'll encounter in the NFL.

"When I first became the starter at Washington State, I didn't really know what was ahead of me and I didn't quite expect to be a draft prospect in the future," Dillard said. "It's here and it's real. It's a dream."

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