We're 29 days from the start of training camp in Berea, which means we have a little time to look toward the clouds (they've abstained from rain for a whole 24 hours) and ponder deep thoughts about how things might go for the 2019 Cleveland Browns.
From that process, we've emerged from the inner portion of our football-focused consciences with nine very important questions related to this football team, which reconvenes for the start of camp in a month. We'll address one per weekday for the next two weeks. Next up: The men tasked with protecting No. 6 and opening lanes for runners.
Most Important Question No. 7: Who makes the cut on the offensive line?
In the past 15-20 years, the Browns were either very reliable up front and lacking everywhere else, or their issues on the offensive line were a main cause of their offensive struggles. In the second half of last season, we saw a glimpse of the rare beauty that is an offense that is playing well at all positions.
There's been some change since then.
In March, Browns general manager John Dorsey shipped out guard Kevin Zeitler in a trade that landed the Browns both Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon. Presumably, after selecting Austin Corbett with the first pick of the second round, Dorsey was trading surplus to address needs elsewhere.
Economically, such a move makes sense in multiple areas. Beckham significantly upgrades Cleveland's up-and-coming receiving corps and also brings plenty of attention to a team that has been out of the spotlight for much of the current century. That's good for the bottom line.
But is it good for the offensive line?
The starting line is essentially set at four positions: Greg Robinson at left tackle, Joel Bitonio at left guard, JC Tretter at center, and Chris Hubbard at right tackle. Right guard has yet to see a favorite emerge, even with the expectation that Corbett would replace Zeitler after a year spent learning from the sideline. We'll address that battle later in this series.
This question is more about depth. Beyond who wins the right guard position lies free-agent acquisitions with experience filling in for starters. Eric Kush spent time at both guard positions in Chicago last season and also has experience playing center. Bryan Witzmann, Kush's teammate in Chicago, filled in adequately for Kyle Long in 2018 and could do something similar in Cleveland.
Much of this is a numbers game that is also interdependent on how many skilled position players Dorsey decides to keep. He'll have tough calls to make at receiver and tight end, two groups stocked with talent that will be difficult to pare down at the end of camp. If 10 roster spots are spent on the two groups combined, that could take away a spot on the line. Conversely, one or two less kept in those areas could preserve a job for another lineman.
Ideally, a team would want three guards, three tackles and two centers, with the hope that one of the guards or tackles can also serve as a swing lineman. Bitonio explained that such reasoning was part of this process, which is naturally stagnated by the fact they haven't put pads on yet.
"I think they want to find the starting right guard and them I think they want to find a backup center too," Bitonio said during minicamp. "And they are getting reps at left guard, right guard and center because if you are the backup interior guy you got to be able to play all three."
If a backup guard can play all three positions effectively, another tackle spot could open up, but another center could be saying goodbye because he's less needed. It's a fluid situation that will provide us with more clarity once the pads start cracking.
In the meantime, as they've been able to work on hand placement and softly bump chests, we've been able to glean a few tidbits. This staff seems to like the potential of Kalis, a former 4-star tackle at Lakewood St. Edward High School and major Division I lineman. He was a mid-season addition and spent most of it on the practice squad until he was activated late, appearing in three games.
It's also very clear that Forbes will end up as a guard. He even sounds as if he's coming around on it, because it's likely his best chance to stick in the NFL.
Luckily for him, he has plenty of teammates who made a similar tackle-to-guard transition in the NFL. He won't be without guidance, and if he demonstrates the violence with which he blocked in college once training camp arrives, he'll likely find himself on this roster.
The big question remains centered on the battle for right guard, because that could make or break the chances of a player such as Kalis, Kush or Witzmann surviving cut-down day, especially if Forbes shows the promise to match his fifth-round selection.
We haven't even discussed tackle, where the Browns went out and added Kendall Lamm, a favorite of Texans coach Bill O'Brien who started 13 games for Houston in 2018. O'Brien lauded Lamm for his work ethic and perseverance in a Houston Chronicle story published late in the 2018 season, and he did well when called upon. He could serve as the reliable third tackle the Browns would need in an ideal breakdown of the roster.
Also included in these camp battles are center Willie Wright and tackles Brad Seaton, Brian Fineanganofo and Ka'John Armstrong. Armstrong earned himself a chance with the team via minicamp tryout.
Again, we won't know much until the pads come on. Luckily, that day is less than a month away.