Cleveland Browns: Offensive Line Ready to Lead the Way?

Brian StepanekCorrespondent IIMay 29, 2012

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 18:  Center Alex Mack #55 of the Cleveland Browns prepares to snap the football against the Arizona Cardinals during the NFL game at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 18, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Browns 20-17 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

"Defensive and offensive linemen control the game and true sports fans know that." — Dante Hall

 Though their recent string of 10+ loss seasons from 2008-2011 certainly call for little celebration, the Cleveland Browns can take solace in the fact that they've built a strong nucleus around the football for the future.

On defense, draft picks Ahtyba Rubin, Jabaal Sheard and Phil Taylor project to fill their roles in the long-term.

Offensively, left tackle Joe Thomas became the anchor of the franchise when the all-world third-overall pick out of Wisconsin signed a long-term deal with the Browns. Center Alex Mack put together a strong season, despite suffering a sports hernia in the early weeks.

Expect Mack's play to greatly improve as he should feel far more healthy heading into 2012.

With respect to improvement, the Browns expect to see precisely that out of young guards Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston.

Pinkston played quite well in 2011 despite missing the opportunity to learn the new position as a result of the lockout.

Lauvao, meanwhile, has struggled at times in space despite being drafted higher than Pinkston a year earlier.

Both guards could lock down their jobs for the long term this season, but neither is guaranteed to retain their spot by the end.

John Greco and rookie Ryan Miller out of Colorado will eagerly await any opportunity Pinkston or Lauvao provide.

At right tackle the Browns replace Tony Pashos, perhaps the weakest link offensively in 2011, with rookie Mitchell Schwartz out of California.

Schwartz possesses the combination of athleticism and aggression that coaches love to see out of right tackle prospects.

The Browns snubbed several more "name-brand" prospects, like Cordy Glenn out of Georgia and Stanford's Jonathan Martin when they selected Schwartz at 37th overall.

Clearly the Browns saw something in Schwartz they wanted, time will tell if GM Tom Heckert knew something the draft wonks didn't.

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