Every week, it becomes difficult to imagine things getting much worse for the Cleveland Browns, and yet it keeps happening. The latest export from the Factory of Sadness featured yet another offensive lineman going down, this time one of their mainstays, and this time for a stint on injured reserve.
The Browns put guard Joel Bitonio on injured reserve yesterday after the third-year lineman suffered a midfoot injury during the team’s blowout loss to the Patriots on Sunday. Evidently the severity of the injury was not fully realized until late in the week.
Were it not for the mainstay of Joe Thomas at left tackle—who joked on social media that he was “questionable” due to a receding hairline this week—Cleveland’s offensive line would be nearly entirely in shambles, and that is an offensive line attempting to protect their third-string quarterback, a rookie third-round draft pick who was forced to leave the last game in the first quarter with a midsection injury.
Coming into the league as a second-round draft pick in 2014, Bitonio was a day-one starter, making 16 starts as a rookie. He was sidelined with an injury for six weeks during his second season last year, but he played well in his 10 starts. He also started the first five games of this season before suffering the injury.
The Browns have already had to mix and match along the offensive line. Center Cameron Erving has missed most of the season, and it’s still unclear when he will be back. The player that they eventually put in his place at center, Austin Reiter, suffered a season-ending injury.
Currently right guard John Greco is manning the center position, while his position has been filled primarily by Alvin Bailey, starting two games, but having also served a one-game suspension in that timeframe, otherwise he would have had three starts.
It’s unclear who is going to step into the lineup at left guard to replace Bitonio, though the Browns did manage to claim former first-round draft pick Jonathon Cooper off waivers. He was traded to the Patriots from the Cardinals this offseason, but New England just released him.
Either Cooper or rookie Spencer Drango figures to step in at that position. Drango, normally a tackle, started one game at right guard while Bailey was serving his suspension. The Browns currently only have seven healthy linemen on the 53-man roster, including third-round rookie tackle Shon Coleman, who is the only one to not have played.
Thomas and Greco are the only two linemen on the 53-man roster to have played every snap so far, and Greco’s has come across multiple positions, although right tackle Austin Pasztor has only missed one snap. No other lineman has even seen 50 percent of the team’s snaps.
Overall, however, it has to be acknowledged that their line has gone from a great asset just last season to a weakness. Outside of Thomas, no spot is ideal, with Greco out of position, Pasztor and Erving a major step back from what they had last year, and now no quality substitution for Bitonio.