Kevin Zeitler, JC Tretter give Browns new, strengthened look to heart of O-line

The Browns on Thursday made one thing clear: They're committed to the heart of their offensive line.

Within hours, the Browns signed ascending left guard Joel Bitonio to a five-year extension, locked up similarly promising center JC Tretter -- formerly of Green Bay -- and agreed to terms on a deal with the highest-rated guard on the market, former Bengal Kevin Zeitler.

The short- and long-term future of an offensive line that dealt with a barrage of injuries and inconsistency in 2016 suddenly looks much, much brighter.

"It got me really excited," Zeitler said. "Seeing those building blocks and putting an O-line together that will hopefully be together for quite a few years, it's very exciting. Hue (Jackson) loves to run the ball and I'll be excited to see what we can all do together."

The Browns were actually pretty stable and consistent at the tackle positions in 2016 -- with perennial Pro Bowler Joe Thomas not missing a snap and right tackle Austin Pasztor starting 15 games -- but injuries reared their ugly head before the end of the home opener.

Center Cameron Erving was sidelined for multiple weeks, forcing right guard John Greco to rotate in and out of the position over the course of a month. Promising rookie Austin Reiter filled in for one game before seeing his season come to an end with a knee injury. A mix of veterans Alvin Bailey and Jonathan Cooper and rookie Spencer Drango filled the voids at both guard spots after Bitonio (Week 5) and Greco (Week 12) were lost for the season with foot injuries.

Now, the Browns have additional depth and talent to work with on an offensive line that has aspirations to be much, much better in 2017.

"Obviously, when I was in Green Bay, we had (former Packers and Bears G) Josh Sitton and (Packers G) T.J. Lang so it is great surrounding yourself with players at the top of their position. That is what you have here now," Tretter said. "Whenever you have guys who are as good as it gets in the league right now, you have the opportunity to really go out there and succeed, and I think everybody really raises their level of play as you increase the talent in the room. I think people will also begin to play better around because they will be playing up to the expectation of other players."

The group will be under the supervision of veteran offensive line coach Bob Wylie, a former coach under Jackson in Oakland who joined the Browns coaching staff in January. He met with both players Friday in Berea.

"We've done a good job together, he's a guy I'm real familiar with," Jackson said in January. "When we were together, we didn't get the quarterback hit a lot and that's the name of the game the quarterback's gotta be able to stand up right and do what he does well. We needed to improve there and I felt like it was best to make that change."

The only perceived question mark sits at right tackle, though the Browns have a handful of options.

Pasztor is an unrestricted free agent. Erving started the final game of the season at right tackle. Former third-round pick Shon Coleman developed behind the scenes and showed promise in the season finale. And the Browns, of course, hold 11 picks in April's draft.

"The only thing I know is I watched them a couple times on film this past season, and I know they like to run the ball, and they did it pretty well," Zeitler said. "I am excited to be a part of that."

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