Browns Could Be Down Two Starting OL For Steelers’ Regular Season Opener

I normally would not cover multiple intra-divisional news items on the same day, but we had two emerge yesterday that I felt merited timely coverage. Earlier today, I route about a potential reunion in the works between the Baltimore Ravens and former starting center Jeremy Zuttah.

The Ravens have been hard-hit along the offensive line, losing a starter in free agency and another to injury, while having already traded Zuttah. Bringing him back could at least plug one of multiple holes for them.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns devoted heavy resources in not only rebuilding but preserving their offensive line after losing two major starters the year before. But they saw two starters (or potential starters) go down with injuries during Monday’s practice.

This is relevant because their status for the preseason opener is currently in doubt, and, of course, the Browns will play the Pittsburgh Steelers during the season opener. Joel Bitonio, who has been their starting left guard since his rookie season, and Cameron Erving, who is competing to start at right tackle, both suffered injuries—knee and calf, respectively—and will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis.

While it might be fairly argued that they are their two worst starting offensive linemen—Joe Thomas is a perennial Pro Bowler at worst, while they spent major resources to bring in Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter in free agency—it is a blow for any offensive line unit to be without at least one starter, and potentially two.

The Browns will not be that bad off at all, however, should the two indeed miss the season opener against the Steelers. Shon Coleman, in his second year competing with Erving for the right tackle position, will now potentially have from now until then to prepare for the starting job.

Meanwhile, with the additions that the team made in free agency, former starter John Greco has now become something of a super sub. While Bitonio rightfully is in the starting lineup, Greco is a proven veteran player in his 10th season, and has spent the bulk of that time in Cleveland.

A former second-round pick, Bitonio has started every game he has played, but he missed six games due to injury in 2015, and 11 in 2016. The Browns signed him to a lucrative long-term extension early this offseason during the initial free agency period.

As for Erving, he was a first-round draft pick in 2015, initially meant to be a center, but he has struggled at both guard and center. After adding two quality starters there in free agency and with Bitonio locked up at the other position, tackle was the only position left for him.

He did start there late last season for the Browns, including in the regular season finale against the Steelers. He generally did capably, but he did surrender a sack to Bud Dupree. Erving also missed a fair amount of time due to injuries last year after opening the season as the starting center.

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