The Cleveland Browns dished out the cash this offseason to bring in a new tackle—for the right side of the offensive line—in Jack Conklin. Then they drafted a tackle in the first round for the left side—who played on the right side during his college career, Alabama’s Jedrick Wills.
But Wills, you see, was the blindside protector for Tua Tagovailoa, who was left-handed. Alabama played him on the right side of the offensive line for that purpose. And Cleveland isn’t worried about his being moved over to the left side to block for Baker Mayfield.
“He’s got these intangibles that show up in tangible ways on film”, said their new offensive line coach, Bill Callahan, who is well-respected in the league, via Dan Labbe. “You watch him finish, you watch his detail and technique, you watch his consistent effort and his stamina throughout the game from start to finish and I think that’s what was the appeal for me”.
It’s one thing to have the talent to play along the offensive line at the NFL level, but it’s another to do that while translating your skills to what is essentially a new position—or the inverse of the position that you’re familiar with playing.
“I’m quite confident he’s capable of being our left tackle”, Callahan said. “They’re going to go through some lumps and they’re going to have times when they’re going to get beat, but the best in the game get beat”.
It’s unusual territory for the Browns, who had the benefit of employing Joe Thomas for 11 years. the third-overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, he didn’t miss a single snap until he suffered a season-ending injury in the seventh game of the 2017 season, after which he chose to retire.
A 10-time Pro Bowler—all but his aborted final season—and a nine-time All-Pro, with seven first-team distinctions, Thomas is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame, but he’s not on the team anymore. Their primary left tackle for the past two seasons was Greg Robinson, who was middling at best and is now incarcerated or smuggling drugs into the country.
Cleveland was in the mix to trade for Trent Williams, but they elected to wait and see how the draft unfolded with its strong class at the tackle position. They sat tight, and despite multiple teams drafting a tackle ahead of him, they got the one they were hoping for in Wills.
The weakness of the offensive line, particularly at the tackle positions, was probably the biggest thing holding the team back over the past two years, at least when it comes to on-field problems. They appear to have solved that problem this offseason, so it will be interesting to see what the offense can do with improved protection.