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Trying To Make Sense Of The Browns’ OL Decisions -
02-21-2019, 05:33 PM,
Trying To Make Sense Of The Browns’ OL Decisions -
Ez Likes Sunday Morning 8/5/18 This last week the Cleveland Browns surprised a great many by announcing they were moving Left Guard Joel Bitonio to Left Tackle , a position which the Browns haven’t had to even think about since 2007, the year they drafted the great Joe Thomas.With the 3rd pick in that year’s draft, the Browns would solidify one of the more important positions in the game with a player who, in my humble, if estimable (and yes a little biased) opinion, will go down as the greatest ever there ever was at protecting the blind side.In about five years we’ll be celebrating his entry into the pro football hall of fame, as he will no doubt make it on his first appearance on the ballot.Two sad aspects of that tale: despite Thomas’ truly elite play from basically his first snap to his last (and the over 10,000 uninterrupted in between) it never mattered because the quarterbacks he wound up protecting were terrible-to-mediocre at best, and we mostly resided in terrible territory.The other is that his HOF career is now over as it came to an end against Tennessee last season when he collapsed onto the field at FOSFEF just moments after throwing Brian Orakpo to the ground.Thus, Joe’s time with us ended, and in the wake of that sorrow there immediately arose a need on the roster that we haven’t had in over a decade.That need initially was met by Spencer Drango, a backup guard who was promptly abused by Orakpo and probably put the finishing touches on destroying whatever confidence Cody Kessler may have somehow obtained.I’m not sure Kessler even got off a pass in any of his subsequent appearances.Although, Drango performed much better as the season progressed.Calling it “good” would certainly be a stretch, though from our perspective it’s also hard to gauge when the comparison is the GOAT.Either way, it was clear he wasn’t seen as the answer the 2017 season drew to a close and the 2018 offseason commenced.AnalyticsEven with the switch to the Football Guy, it seems we’re following a similar patternScott R. Galvin-USA TODAY SportsWhen the Browns started this process way back at the beginning of 2016, the word “analytics” was being thrown around heavily when the team hired Paul Depodesta as the new Chief Strategy Officer, pairing with now erstwhile Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown.The term itself began taking on a plethora of different meanings depending on who you talk to.Considering the way the team has come to handle roster situations over the last two years, especially with respect to the quarterback position but also other including this Left Tackle conundrum, I think a way that I personally view the approach has to do mostly with providing as many contingency plans as possible.This has mostly worked up and down the roster.The team essentially threw waves of young players, many acquired with high draft selections, at every position group in the hopes that some would hold down spots, which has happened.This offseason, the new GM John Dorseyaddressed those spots which didn’t have strong answers in the first few waves of attempts.The result overall is a good looking, if unproven, young, talented roster. However, starting Left Tackles aren’t that easy to find.In fact, there’s a paucity of quality Tackles period in the NFL, but the LT’s of course are premium positions due to the nature of their particular task.This was true even with our having more cap space and draft capital than perhaps any team entering any offseason ever.The question hovered all the way up until just before the start of the free agency period, as to whether or not Thomas would make a return or retire.When it was learned the team was heavily courting Nate Solder, who was basically the only LT available, it pretty well signaled the end.We lost out to the New York Giants on the Solder Derby , and the next highest paid LT of the 2018 Free agency class was...Donald Stephenson, signed by us.He has since retired.The highest paid Right Tackle was Chris Hubbard, also signedby us, and instantly was assumed to be the new starter on the right side.This was somewhat puzzling given the presence of Shon Coleman, 2016 3rd round pick and 2017 starter, who didn’t play especially poorly last year, albeit with more than his share of penalties.It was presumed therefore that the signing of Hubbard was a sign that the team was ready to move Coleman to LT, where he played in college.The DraftAn unlikely candidateBrian Spurlock-USA TODAY SportsWith no real opportunities to upgrade the position outside of Solder via free agency, Cleveland would do what it could do in the draft.Unfortunately, this draft class was particularly weak at the position as well.In order for us to secure the best, we would have had to spend our fourth overall on Mike McGlinchey out of Notre Dame, who ended up going to San Francisco with the ninth pick.Instead, we went with OSU cornerback Denzel Ward, widely regarded as the #1 CB in the draft.Whether Ward turns out to be the better player remains to be seen, but at first blush I’m quite happy with our decision.I agree with the consensus that Ward was the best CB, and actually the best overall player for us, at number 4.I wasn’t especially high on McGlinchey, nor Kolton Miller, the other OT taken in the top half of round one (#15 overall/Raiders).Isaiah Wynn out of UGA was taken at twenty-three by New England, and also may have been a reach.Again, time will tell, but as the first round drew to a close, the Browns went back on the clock to start day two.Perhaps like you, I was surprised at the selection of Austin Corbett, the versatile offensive lineman out of Nevada.He was viewed as a guard in the NFL, and we were set at the guard spot with highly paid players in Joel Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler.Seemed odd that we would spend the 33rd overall on a player that didn’t figure to contribute, unless they thought he could play Left Tackle, the position he played at Nevada, where he started for four years after replacing his predecessor at Left Tackle: Joel Bitonio. In fact, Bitonio and Corbett were friends who trained together prior to us drafting the latter.Considering we had all day to make this decision, I feel like the front office new exactly what it wanted to do and had zero doubts about Corbett being their guy, and it goes back to the contingency mindset.Corbett may have been widely projected as a G in the NFL, but not universally so.Some teams had him rated rather highly as a tackle Womens Emmanuel Ogbah Jersey , as apparently it was viewed at the time, we did: Yet when training camp arrived Corbett saw no snaps at LT, instead filling in with the 2nd team at LG.At this point people are really scratching their head at the selection of the guy with the 33rd overall if he was just going to be depth for an already really good LG in Bitonio.This seemed to be codified into preeminence with the declaration of Joe Thomas himself that Corbett wasn’t a Tackle and wasn’t going to be. While that was going on, apparently the Plan A of moving Coleman over to LT wasn’t working out.At some point we picked up the once highly drafted Greg Robinson to compete for a spot, and he seemed to have taken over the #2 spot on the depth chart behind Coleman, kind of solidifying Thomas’ projection of Corbett.With Coleman unable to garner the confidence of the coaching staff, the decision came down to go to the next option, and that’s Bitonio, who’s never played the position at the NFL level.Corbett now slides into Bitonio’s spot, which now makes sense with his selection at 33.Was this the plan all along, and if it was why not start camp with that configuration?I think the answer to the first question is: probably not.As to the second, I think they either hoped or expected that Shon Coleman would both take a developmental step forward while also stepping back to the side of the line he anchored at Auburn.If that happens, Bitonio stays at his natural spot, and Corbett becomes quality depth.Prior to any of that happening, the possibility that Corbett could himself play the position was no doubt explored extensively before being discarded, which is a determination you can only make after drafting the guy and getting him in your house.This is likely why the decision to draft him instead of say Will Hernandez (taken one pick later by the Giants) who was widely regarded as being a better prospect at the G position.In that particular comparison, I’m guessing the calculus was that whatever the dropoff (if any) in talent is overcome by just the possibility that he could have maybe gotten it done at LT, another contingency. If Bitonio can be the answer at LT, the team will be incredibly fortunate and well situated.While apparently overmatched for T, Corbett should be able to slide right in and do well at LG.Bitonio doesn’t have to be (and won’t be) a continuation of Thomas.That chapter is over - we will never see that level of excellent at the position again.However if Bitonio can be just league average, we can win with that (assuming a lot of other things fall into place).In fact his big contract extension a year ago actually works out to be about league average for OT’s.Is the situation ideal?No, but the team did everything it could to address the position with what it had to work with.There just aren’t that many good LT’s to go out and get when your HOF’er goes down.All eyes now will be on Bitonio, and if he nails it down we’ll be in pretty good shape in one of the game’s most important of position groups.If not, then next year he can slide back to G and we’ll figure out what to do with Corbett.Likely that scenario involves him supplanting J.C. Tretter, whose contract will end, and us drafting a LT with whatever our highest pick is.It’s the last contingency, and hopefully one we won’t have to exercise, both because Bitonio’s held down the role and also because our selection will be too low to focus on a single position to target.We’ll see soon enough, the start of the season is but a month out.Baker Mayfield’s College Offense Part II: Counter If I had to choose one play that encapsulated Baker Mayfield and Lincoln Riley’s offense, it would probably be the Counter play. So much of what the Oklahoma Sooners did was based on Counter, and they ran it incredibly well. (See Part I of this series if you missed it) Counter’s origins and play descriptionMany football plays can be traced clearly back a few generations of coaches but have somewhat murky origin stories. Counter, however, was invented by Tom Osbourne at Nebraska. Osbourne had incredible success with the play in the 80s and 90s , and Joe Gibbs liked it so much he stole it and used it with his famous Washington “Hogs” teams. From there, the play exploded. Yet another hat tip to Chris Brown, who writes more in-depth about this history.Counter is a gap-blocked run, meaning unlike a zone run there is a predetermined gap through which the RB is to run. Every counter play has three componentsBig Grinown blocks on the playsideTongueullers from the backside (almost always two, but in certain situations only one)And some form of misdirection away from the eventual direction of the playThe traditional counter play fakes the run away from the eventual playside, allowing the pulls time to develop. Meanwhile the angles that players can take on the down blocks give them a great advantage to washing players down the line. As the pullers reach their targets, they have momentum toward the playside of the run. This action of down blocks headed in one direction and pulls headed opposite creates a natural split in the defense. The first puller kicks out the end man on the line of scrimmage, the second puller wraps to pick someone up on the second level, and the back runs through the opening. It is power football, and it is beautiful.Osbourne’s original version pulled two backside linemen to wrap around the play, with a fullback or TE plugging the gap created by the pullers. Gibbs saw the gap left by the pullers as a liability in the pro game (I wouldn’t trust a fullback to effectively seal Myles Garrett or Aaron Donald in this situation, would you?), so he switched the role of the FB and backside tackle:This switch had the added benefit of making the Counter run overlap with the Power run even more than it previously had (i.e. a lot), which created additional practice efficiency. Now the tackle’s job was the same on both plays, meaning he only had to practice one technique.Lincoln Riley’s Oklahoma CounterFast forward to 2018 and a lot has changed on the cutting edge of offensive football. Lincoln Riley has taken this classic running play and made it the centerpiece of an offense that evolved from the “throw it every down and then throw it again” offenses of the Air Raid. With Baker Mayfield as his quarterback, he developed an offense that was as beautiful as it was lethal.From my perspective, there are two parts to Riley’s genius. The first is his creativity and the new ways he is able to deliver, disguise, and combine tried-and-true ideas on the football field. The second—which is perhaps the reason for the duration and the degree of his success—is the way that everything in his offense fits so well together. So few plays in the offense are playcalling cul-de-sacs, leading down one road only to awkwardly circle around at a dead end. Riley’s offense is more like the traffic grid in Futurama, a 3-D network where Riley can go anywhere at any time. Almost every play is setting up a fake for another play or looks exactly like a third play until the receiver breaks the opposite way.Riley’s drive and courage to be “different” and the way he has seemingly no wasted space in the playbook are both firmly in step with the Air Raid ethos, even if he is running the ball more than he is airing it out.Base shotgun counterOklahoma’s typical counter play has reverted back to the old Tom Osbourne style with the GT pull (though honestly they run so many variations of the play it is hard to call any variation “normal”).They run the play from a shotgun spread formation, a development which should hopefully surprise no one:While the GT pull was the typical style of blocking during my film study, there were other times where a FB or TE would pull instead:There were also times where the Center pulled. This appeared to be an adjustment or line call based on the defensive front:On these plays the misdirection element to the play is the threat of the backside QB run. Instead of having the back fake one way and head the other, the offense presents the threat of running to the backside of the play with the QB. There is no way to be certain without inside information, but this could be just a fake or it could actually be a read. My best guess is that they have one call for each.The added benefit of this is that the QB can act like a blocker by optioning a defensive player, thus removing the need for a tackle or FB to seal off the backside. This means Riley’s variation has effectively added another blocker to make the play even more deadly.Regardless of who pulls and what the misdirection is, the elements remain the sameBig Grinown blocks to the play sidePullers from the back sideMisdirection awayConstraintThe real key to Oklahoma’s version of the play isn’t just that it is sound on a whiteboard, or that they players are well-coached and execute it well (and both things are true). The key is that unlike the traditional counter play where the misdirection is a simple step by the back, Riley’s counter series is true misdirection: the ball can actually make it to the back side of the play on any given down.There are always down blocks to the playside and pulls from the backside, but the misdirection element of Counter takes many forms.If the linebackers are keying the running back, Riley can draw upon a back-away (“BASH”) type of counter play that sends the pullers in one direction and the backs the other:If Oklahoma were to always fake the pass to this back and run to the pulls, linebackers could just follow the pullers to the ball. But as with seemingly every piece in Riley’s offense Authentic Kevin Zeitler Jersey , the fake isn’t a dead end:That’s the same play, only the ball goes the other way. This could be a type of option for Baker to keep on the Counter or throw the swing route to the back, but it looks to me like a predetermined call.Here is a wrinkle where OU snapped the ball directly to the running back and faked a pitch to the QB on the backside (by my count this fake affects 4 OSU defenders):Is that Baker Mayfield under center!? Just kidding. It’s a counter from the wildcat in a jumbo package on 4th and 1:OU could also read a backside player but save Mayfield’s legs by optioning between giving the ball on counter and throwing a quick pass to a back headed the opposite way. To make it even harder to defend, they would cross backs in the backfield:The play above looks like a true read to me, where Mayfield keeps the ball long enough to decide to give or pull it. Here is that same play but the read takes Mayfield to the downhill runner:And with players like Dede Westbrook and Marquisema Brown, they ran plenty of jet motion along with counter as well:And again, that Jet motion isn’t just a fake, they give it to that player:If you get caught watching the guards and lose contain, one of the fastest skill position players in the FBS could be eating up yardage there.RPOsAs if that weren’t enough to keep track of, Riley, Mayfield, and the Sooners could dial up a number of Run Pass Options off of the counter play to keep defenses honest. Here is a slant thrown behind safeties coming up to stop the run:And here is an out thrown against a soft corner, who must play deep because his safety help is up for the run:With both plays, Mayfield is reading the defense’s reaction to the pulls to determine whether to hand the ball off to the run or throw it to the wide receiver.Mayfield, the point guardAre you dizzy yet? Defenses sure were. With this seemingly endless array of variations, Riley could get the ball into the hands of his playmakers and keep defenses on their heels. Oklahoma could pull anyone, they could run the classic counter play or give ball to the misdirection player, they could run the play from any personnel grouping or formation in their offense, and they could attach RPOs to it as well. To a defense it’s a nightmare. But to OU, it was just counter.I haven’t even touched on the play action pass game off of this play yet, and you better believe OU had a good one.There is something about the multiplicity within this play that reminds me much more of the way that NFL offenses work than the typical Air Raid. The idea that they are basing all of this off of one play is classic Air Raid, but the shifts in formation, the tinkering of who does what job on the play, and the way they can attack a defense’s keys is much closer to the way the best pro offenses operate in my opinion. While the classic Air Raid offenses dared you to beat them even though you knew what was coming, Lincoln Riley seems more willing to make gameplan-specific adjustments to what his offense does.At the center of it all directing traffic, getting people lined up and on the right blocks, and making the option reads when necessary was Mayfield. This was one of the most overlooked aspects to his game during the draft process in my opinion, his ability as a “game manager”. I know that’s typically a derogatory term, but much like a point guard he was leading the offense and making it run smoothly even when he wasn’t the one with the ball. As he said in the Behind Baker series to Patrick Mahomes, another signal caller for an “Air Raid” offense:Up NextA look at the OU passing game Custom Chicago Bears Jerseys

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