Joe Thomas is arguably one of the best left tackles in NFL history. Now that he's retired, though, somebody has to face the daunting task of replacing Thomas.
That process continues to play out at Browns training camp, which hit Day 4 on Sunday.
As of now, Shon Coleman is leading the effort to fill Thomas' shoes. Although there is a competition at left tackle, Coleman has taken all of the first-team snaps. Three Browns are vying with him for that slot: Greg Robinson, Desmond Harrison and Austin Corbett.
Offensive line coach Bob Wylie is confident with Coleman's progress.
Coleman, who was the Browns' starting right tackle a year ago, is continuing his transition to the other side of the line. He's gotten bigger and stronger, and his mental toughness is much stronger, Wylie said. Wylie noted that Coleman was afraid of failure last season, which led to a large number of holding calls. Now, Coleman's mentality is improving, and Wylie expects that to lead to better play on the field.
"Shon's fighting," Wylie said. "He's doing well at the spot."
Center JC Tretter has a great view of the left tackle opening. He's the signal-caller on the offensive line, and he's been impressed with Coleman so far, but knows the competition is ongoing.
"Shon has been everything we have needed him to be up until now. Austin has been playing well. The pads just got put on yesterday. You were not going to be able to make any real determination in shorts," Tretter said. "Now that the pads are on, we will see guys compete and go against rushers that are actually going full speed. This is where we will figure out who is going to be the best player at that position. Whenever there is a competition, the best player is going to rise to the surface and that is what we are looking for. We are looking for the best five players to play."
Meanwhile, Corbett, who played left tackle at Nevada, was playing guard the first couple days of training camp, but that changed when Robinson entered the concussion protocol Friday. Robinson was taking second-team reps at left tackle, but now that's Corbett's responsibility. Corbett's problem is a good one to have: The coaching staff doesn't yet know where he best fits.
Robinson has good attributes of a left tackle: range, arms, athleticism and experience. Undrafted rookie Desmond Harrison rounds out the field. Harrison's been sidelined with an ankle injury, but he's getting valuable mental reps in the back of the huddle.
In recent days, both Wylie and coach Hue Jackson have been asked about the prospect of moving Joel Bitonio to left tackle. Wylie maintained it was an option, but "the last" one.
"If you're going to go 'A' down, that would be 'Z,'" Wylie said.
For now, Coleman will continue to take the first-team reps. Wylie likes Coleman's long arms and range, but there's still room for improvement. On the upside, Coleman can be a nasty player along the line, which Wylie loves. At the same time, the staff isn't ready to name a starter.
"Whoever it is, we'll make that decision, and then we'll work with that guy," Wylie said.