Nothing’s going to be handed to Austin Corbett. That’s been made clear from the moment Cleveland traded Kevin Zeitler to the Giants in March, feasibly opening a starting spot at right guard custom-made for the 2018 second-round pick.
It’s been further affirmed at OTAs, as the Browns have mixed and matched a number of different players at the position while keeping Corbett fresh as an option at center in the event JC Tretter goes down with an injury.
Thursday’s practice, the ninth of 10 OTAs, featured more of Kyle Kalis working with the first team at right guard while Corbett led the second-team group at center. ‘Tis the season for tinkering and testing, as Browns coach Freddie Kitchens looks to see how much his players can handle at a time of year when time is on the team’s side.
“As a football team at this time of year, when else do you have to judge somebody’s versatility, whether they can do this because you don’t know what’s going to happen when you get into the season,” Kitchens said. “You don’t know who you’re going to lose, you don’t know if you’re going to stay completely healthy, you don’t know who is going to play bad. The more you can do, the better off you are. We’re just constantly rotating guys. We’re not trying to get anybody comfortable right now. We’re wanting to see where they fit best for the Cleveland Browns and how they’ll help us win the first football game.
Check out photos from the ninth day of OTA practices
Kalis, who was signed to Cleveland’s practice squad before the start of last season and elevated to the active roster in December, is a Lakewood native who starred at St. Edward’s High School and went on to a prolific career at Michigan. He’s appeared in seven NFL games since 2017, including two starts at right guard for the Colts.
“I like Kalis. I like Kalis a lot. He is aggressive. He is strong,” said Kitchens, who stressed Kalis has been the first-team right guard at just a handful of practices. “Just like everybody else, we are continuing to get better from a mental standpoint and from assignment and alignment. If you can’t get lined up, you can’t know what to do. It is hard to play fast, and we want to be able to play fast. He is in the boat with everybody else in that standpoint.
Corbett was exclusively a tackle at the University of Nevada. He spent last year’s training camp primarily at left guard and worked on his snapping behind the scenes throughout the regular season of his rookie campaign.
"They are entrusting me and opening this spot up for me and now I have to go and show and prove them right that this is why they drafted me. I've got to go make it happen. It's all on me, there's no one else,” Corbett said last week. “If I don't get the starting job, it's my fault that I didn't do well. And if I do, that means I'm stepping up and I've got to keep showing them that."
Tack on the additions of veterans Bryan Witzmann and Eric Kush, and the Browns have plenty of options as they look to see who can do the most for them on the interior offensive line this season. The picture will come into more focus when the pads come on at training camp.
*With a handful of his top projected options absent for part or most of OTAs, Baker Mayfield has gotten plenty of repetitions with some of the team’s lesser-known players at the position. That hasn’t slowed down Mayfield from making the kinds of throws Browns fans grew accustomed to seeing last season. Perhaps his best throw of Thursday came on a deep ball to Ishmael Hyman, who was in the AAF just a few months ago.
Quarterbacks coach Ryan Lindley called it a “blessing in disguise,” and Kitchens echoed that sentiment.
“One thing Baker can get better at, although they are not here, is he has to go through his progressions,” Kitchens said. “He still has to learn how to throw to different receivers. He still has to learn how different receivers come in and out of routes. He can continue to get better with his eyes, his declarations, his sights, his hots and his protection adjustments and things like that. Throwing to different type guys coming out of breaks because even when we have all three or four guys here, we have our top six guys.
“If we have our top six guys, every one of those six is going to come out of a break differently. It is just the extra practice for that type setting. He has done a good job of that.”