By Nick Shook
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I was wrong.
Last week, in the return (!) of Behind the Offensive Line, we broke down some key offensive line battles across the league. I mentioned how the Browns would approach replacing future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas. Being a big believer in guards with potential, I listed No. 33 pick Austin Corbett as a contender for the left tackle position with veteran Shon Coleman.
Then I sat down with Thomas and chatted about his career, offensive line play and the situation at his old post in Cleveland.
Joe Thomas is here to tell you and I that I was wrong.
“I can say confidently that I don’t think Austin Corbettis going to play tackle in the NFL,” Thomas told me Tuesday. “I got to spend all of spring there watching film and practicing and coaching him up and he’s certainly a guard or a center.”
Thomas would very obviously know. He not only has a legendary resume, but also the up-close-and-personal experience with the aforementioned Corbett. And he quickly pointed out where I was wrong.
First, I wrote this:
While Bitonio slid to guard upon arrival to the NFL, Corbett will likely remain at tackle, thanks to Cleveland having its interior line solidified with Bitonio, J.C. Tretter and Kevin Zeitler. He’s a solid blocker in all facets and plays with a streak of violence necessary to succeed in the tougher divisions of the NFL (like the AFC North), but doesn’t quite have the measurables (length, height) that make him a natural tackle. He’ll have to make up for that with his technical skill, and he’ll have a good role model lining up next to him in Bitonio — if he can beat out Coleman.
Turns out, Thomas sees Corbett as the least likely to grab the job, and looks to who he used to line up alongside as the likely choice to make a switch.
“I think what the Austin Corbett pick says is they felt it was really good value and they could develop him for the future depending on what happens,” Thomas explained. “More good linemen is always a good thing and they felt that where they were in the draft was really good value. I agree. I think Austin is going to be a really good player.
“I think he’s got a really good situation right now where he can grow and maybe become the center of the future, or depending on what they do with Joel (Bitonio), if they try to move Joel to tackle, they could put Austin at guard. But yeah, Joel would be the first guy out at tackle, and then they would probably put Austin or Spencer Drango at guard.”
Thomas and I fell back in line toward the end of that analysis, and moved into near lockstep with his next bit of explanation:
“[This is based on] his skill set,” Thomas said. “Austin, God bless him, is not a tackle. He does not have the speed that you need to be able to block edge rushers. He does [have heavy feet].
“I think he’s very well-suited for guard, for center, but he’s not really tall or lanky. He’s not a basketball player. I think typically you want your tackles to be kind of former basketball players.”
By basketball players, Thomas means guys who are agile in multiple directions — like Thomas was.
So what does this battle in Cleveland become? One of adjustment, perhaps. Bitonio played tackle at Nevada, but hasn’t done so since he reached the NFL. He’s become one of the league’s best guards rather quickly in that time, which lends encouragement to the thought he might be able to adjust quicker than most. And there’s still Coleman, though Thomas and I didn’t talk much about him, and Spencer Drango, who enters the conversation if the Browns are moving a starting guard out wide.
It’s also intriguing in the long term, because it adds a layer of foresight to GM John Dorsey’s draft strategy. While many (including this guy) were fooled into thinking it was about tackle, it might have been about the interior all along.