The Trenches Are the Cleveland Browns' Strengths Heading into 2009

Cory HolibaughCorrespondent IMay 9, 2009

A position that often gets overlooked in the NFL is the line, both offensive and defensive. Even though these positions are very important, they don't get as much credit as the skilled players.

Heading into 2009, the Cleveland Browns trenches are looking good, as well as deep.

The Offensive Line

Out: Kevin Shaffer, Seth McKinney

In: Floyd Womack, John St. Clair, Alex Mack

The Browns offensive line is looking to be their strongest asset in the upcoming season. That's something Cleveland hasn't been able to say in a long time.

They have so much depth, created by many starter quality players. Even if a player is injured, the Browns might not miss a beat.

First comes the tackle positions. The only sure thing about them is Joe Thomas at left tackle. He has made two Pro Bowl appearances in two year. The right side will be a competition.

Last years starter at right tackle was Kevin Shaffer, who Mangini cut earlier in the offseason. His inconsistent play and knack for penalties lead to his release.

The candidates are Ryan Tucker and John St. Clair. There has been some speculation that Eric Steinbach could be moved to the right tackle position, but St. Clair's three year, $9 million contract could say differently.

St. Clair has been a starter in his career, as well as being a depth player. He started all 16 games for the Chicago Bears last season at the right tackles position, and he even had a touchdown reception for the Bears.

Tucker, who played right guard for the Browns in 2007 and 2008, will look to go back to right tackle where he played earlier in his career. He was the starter at right tackle before the drafting of Joe Thomas forced Kevin Shaffer to move to there.

If healthy, Tucker could be the starter. It is a little ironic that the only game he played last season was the memorable one against the reigning Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants. When Tucker stepped in, the Browns' offense line thrived.

From there, you have the guard positions. Eric Steinbach was the Browns starter at left guard last season and that looks like it won't change any time soon. Thus leaving the competition to remain on the right side, once again.

Last year the starter heading into the season was Tucker, but his injuries lead to Rex Hadnot starting 15 games. Both remain on the team looking to compete for the job. Another player in the mix is Floyd Womack.

Tucker of course has been injured a lot the last few years and Hadnot has seniority, but the position is anybodies. Womack starter 14 games for the Seattle Seahawks last season, giving him plenty of experience for the job.

Lastly comes the center position.

Last seasons starter was Hank Fraley, a stopgap due to LeCharles Bentley's horrible injury. He has done well for the Browns in the last three years, not missing one game, let alone a start. It may be time for him to step down, though.

The Browns' first-round draft pick, Alex Mack, heads into camp trying to take the starting center position. Of course, he is a rookie, but when compared to Mangini's previous first-round center, Nick Mangold, there is a lot to be put into Mack.

Mack could also play guard, depending on how Fraley's performance compares to the other guards.

The experienced lineman pushing for a depth spot are Lennie Friedman and Isaac Sowells. Young lineman that should push for depth roles in camp are Kurt Quarterman, Dusty Fry, Marlon Davis, and Branndon Braxton.

One very important thing that shouldn't be overlooked is the Browns tight ends, the unofficial lineman. Robert Royal and Steve Heiden are good blocking tight ends that will look to help the O-line.

Martin Rucker isn't much of a blocker, but is a great receiver to throw into the game for a change of pace. Despite their good blocking, Royal and Heiden can catch as well.

Projected starting offensive line (including tight ends):

TE- Robert Royal
LT- Joe Thomas
LG- Eric Steinbach
C- Alex Mack
RG- Floyd Womack
RT- John St. Clair
TE- Steve Heiden

The Defensive Line

Out: none

In: C.J. Mosley, Kenyon Coleman

Last season, the starting defensive ends were suppose to be Corey Williams and Robaire Smith. Smith had a season ending surgery, missing 14 games. Williams started all 16 games, even though he had injury problems in the preseason.

Players like Shaun Smith, Louis Leonard, and Santonio Thomas filled Robaire's shoes while he was out. Now that Robaire is back, the defensive end competition will be interesting.

Especially with the addition of Kenyon Coleman, one of the New York Jets starting defensive ends in 2008. Coleman has the edge, considering he has the experience with Mangini's system and that he had a healthy season last year.

Corey Williams should retain his starting role, but opposite him will be interesting. This leaves the middle.

Despite Mangini "insulting" him during the offseason, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers is still a Brown. He comes into camp in control of the defensive tackle position. The question will be who will play behind him.

Everybody should be well aware that Rogers isn't exactly capable of playing every down of every series, so whoever plays behind him will have an important role. The contestants for the job is anyone who isn't starting a defensive end.

Projected starting defensive line:

RDE- Kenyon Coleman
DT- Shaun Rogers
LDE- Corey Williams

Assuming that the Browns defensive line looks like this, the players behind Rogers should be Shaun Smith and Mosley. Robaire Smith, Leonard, and Thomas should look to play behind Williams and Coleman.

Nonetheless, the Browns defensive line is talented and deep, similar to the offensive line. Other lineman that should push for spots on the roster are Ahtyba Rubin, Melila Purcell, Chase Pittman, and Adam Hoppel.

With the trenches strong and deep, other players should benefit. The Browns offense will thrive, both running and passing game. The linebackers should have an easier time getting to the quarterback.

Not to mention with many players with experience, everybody should get a rest from time to time, keeping everyone fresh. There is still plenty of work to do, but the lines are looking strong for Cleveland.