As you may have seen over the weekend, Ryan Tucker underwent successful hip surgery, and will need some time to recover, but shouldn’t miss games in the regular season. I was happy to see that Tucker is projected to be ready for the 2008 campaign, but even more happy to know that even if he isn’t ready, if something goes wrong in his recovery, there are no worries. The Browns finally have a contingency plan in place for what some would argue is the most crucial position in football: the offensive line.
Since the new Browns started in 1999, the offensive line has been the biggest on-field liability, and the lack of depth meant that we had to keep some pretty terrible players on the field since there were no viable backups that desrved a shot. This year, things could not be more different. This offensive line transformation is one of the telltale signs that Browns Backers finally have a front office in place that they can be proud of. A few years ago, the news of an offensive lineman going under the knife would have sent Browns fans into a woe-is-me attitude that Tucker wouldn’t recover and we would once again be doomed up front. This year, we have some serious depth when it comes to the Big Uglies.
How many other NFL teams can say that they have an interior lineman who has only missed one game since coming into the league in 2004 on the bench? I’m going to go out on a limb and say, oh, probably none. Rex Hadnot is just that lineman. He has been a solid presence on a shaky Miami Dolphins offensive line for the last three seasons, and– more importantly– the Steelers wanted him, and we got him. Tucker and Hadnot represent the top two players on our depth chart at right guard. Behind them, are two very capable back-ups, Lennie Friedman and Seth McKinney.
If you want evidence that this team will be able to follow up their 10-6 season with a playoff appearance in 2008, you simply need to look their options at right guard, where the Browns are four deep. And these are more than just warm bodies, these are guys that have proved that they can play, and in Friedman and McKinney’s case, proved that they were worthy of contract renewals at the end of last season. I’m not trying to say that all four of them have the chance to be Pro Bowlers this year, but it is nice for once to see that there will not be a domino effect on the offensive line if one guy goes down with an injury,
Having a versatile offensive line may be at an even higher premium this year, after what the Giants defensive line was able to do to the Patriots front five in the Super Bowl. Many will try to copy the Giants defensive scheme since it was the only thing that seemed to work against New England all season. That means more upfield rushers in the trenches, more pressure on the offensive line. Having depth on the offensive line has never been more important than it will be in the coming years. Safe to say, I am happy with the way things are looking up front for the Browns this season.
Now, if only I were as confident about our back four on defense.