Countdown to The Draft
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By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
Next up, Matt Kalil: It’s a good thing the NFL draft finally arrives on Thursday. Even Mel Kiper’s Big Board is running out of candidates to be the Browns’ first draft pick at No. 4 overall.
The latest name associated with the Browns is Matt Kalil, the offensive tackle from Southern California. Kalil was considered to be the lock pick at No. 3 for the Minnesota Vikings. On Monday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Vikings will bypass Kalil and decide between Louisiana State cornerback Morris Claiborne and Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon.
So the Browns may have the chance to draft Kalil, a natural left tackle, and position him as a bookend on the right side to perennial All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas. With Alex Mack at center, Kalil would give the Browns perfect symmetry on the offensive line. They could then hide anyone at the guard spots, goes the theory, and sport a formidable offensive front.
But before Schefter reported on Kalil’s slippage, Browns GM Tom Heckert strongly indicated he wasn’t interested in investing another high pick on the line.
“I don’t know, it would be great,” Heckert said unconvincingly of the thought of taking Kalil. “Obviously, if you can get a really good one, it’s great. Now, if you look in the league, there are a lot of teams playing with guys that you’ve never heard of (at right tackle), to be honest with you.”
Translation: No, thank you. We need touchdowns.
If not at No. 4, then when?: Heckert doesn’t dispute the Browns need to draft a right tackle capable of starting. “Yes, we are looking for one,” he said. Coach Pat Shurmur concurred a month ago.
Shurmur offered the example of Jason Pinkston, a fifth-round pick last year, holding down the starting left guard spot as a rookie to replace injured Eric Steinbach.
The inference was the Browns can find a starting right tackle in the middle rounds, not necessarily among the first three picks at No. 4, No. 22 and No. 37.
Not so fast, my friend: LeCharles Bentley cautions not to count on it. The former Pro Bowl offensive lineman believes right tackles can be developed. But if you hope to start one as a rookie – which the Browns expect -- you better pick him earlier than the middle rounds, per Bentley.
“Tackles are a little bit different,” said Bentley, who operates the LeCharles Bentley O-line Academy in Avon. “It’s easier to hide an interior guy. You can slide protection their way. At tackle, at some point in time, those guys are going to be isolated. Especially in the West Coast offense, where you need your tight end and running back running (pass) routes (and not helping the right tackle).”
For a long time, right tackle was considered a lower priority than left tackle. But Bentley sees that trend changing.
“I would say within a year or two, the right tackle will be just as important as the left tackle,” Bentley said. “(Defenses) are now looking to use two premier pass rushers, one on each edge. If you have just ‘a guy’ at right tackle, you’re going to be exposed right away.”
Plus, since most teams naturally run the ball to the right side, right tackles will have to continue to be better run-blockers than left tackles.
“I believe that’s still going to be a part of the skill-set, but you’d like to have a hybrid-type guy that’s just as efficient in the passing game,” Bentley said. “That’s why I believe the right tackle will be more of a premium than the left tackle.”
Left, right: Bentley also said that asking a rookie to convert from left tackle and start immediately at right tackle is a tall order.
“It’s a bit more difficult than advertised,” he said. “If I were a GM, I wouldn’t want to add any ancillary issues to make (starting immediately) more difficult. I would much rather see that (transition) made in free agency.
“It’s asking a lot of a rookie. Especially in this (AFC North) division. You have four games – one-quarter of your season – against elite pass rushers of Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Man, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”
Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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