The Cleveland Browns had a very spotty offensive line in 2019. Perhaps among the worst, particularly in pass protection, in the NFL. They were able to flip the script in just one offseason, signing tackle Jack Conklin in free agency and adding Jedrick Wills Jr. in the first round.
Of course, they already had guard Joel Bitonio in place and had previously added J.C. Tretter at center in a prior year of free agency. The final piece of the puzzle was the development of Wyatt Teller at right guard, a Buffalo Bills fifth-round pick in 2018, whom the Browns would acquire via trade a year later. He, along with Conklin and Bitonio, were all named All-Pros after the 2020 season.
And they’re all back, along with pretty much the rest of the entire offense, at least among key contributors. While the defense has undergone an extensive overhaul and is projected to have more than half of its unit consist of new starters, the offense is more of the same—which both those on the outside and the inside see as a good thing, including Teller.
“It’s crazy going into Year 4 in the NFL and this is the first time having the same offensive line coach for two years in a row”, he recently told the team’s website, referring to the accomplished Bill Callahan, who was brought back in 2020 for a second stint with the team. “I’m doing my work and I’m trying to get better”.
Along with the rest of his groupmates, the Browns offensive line helped evolve the offense into a top unit in football. There was some ebb and flow over the course of the season, but the run game was a steady presence, finishing third in yardage, and fifth in average and touchdowns. The priority now is evening out the passing game, and they believe they can do that simply by maturing as a unit.
“We have 11 guys on offense returning, which is insane — I’ve never heard of that”, Teller said. “We’ve got the guys in the backfield who can do it at a high level … and if the best D-Line I play is our own team, I’ll be very, very happy”.
In addition to the entire offensive line returning, so is, basically, everybody else. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are still in the backfield. Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, and Rashard Higgins return at wide receiver. Austin Hooper and David Njoku are still there at tight end. And of course, there’s Baker Mayfield under center.
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost four starting offensive linemen from last season, as well as their starting running back and their number two tight end, though they still have Ben Roethlisberger, Eric Ebron, and their full complement of wide receivers.
It’s hard not to view the Browns as a team on the ascent and the Steelers heading in the opposite direction. After all, that seems to be what everybody else is doing. Outside of the question at quarterback, though, it wouldn’t take much for Pittsburgh to get back on track.