Joe Thomas’ decision to retire leaves the Browns without a quality left tackle. Moving Joel Bitonio over may disrupt the entire offensive line.
There’s no question left tackle was a sore spot for the Browns last season. Joe Thomas only played seven games in his final campaign, and Shon Coleman failed to seize his chance to take the position for his own. That’s why Hue Jackson is still shuffling his lineup to try to find someone to protect Tyrod Taylor’s blind side.
Jackson’s latest plan is to move left guard Joel Bitonio over one spot to play on the outside. In fairness to the Browns head coach, Bitonio is probably the team’s best option to play at that spot. He played left guard at a Pro Bowl level last season. That does not, however, mean that moving him outside is the best thing for the offensive line as a group.
It’s an especially bad sign that Bitonio doesn’t seem all that interested in making the move. He told local reporters that he is “reluctant” to move to a new position at this point in his career. That doesn’t bode well for his ability to make a seamless transition.
Moving from guard to tackle is not a small thing. Working inside in the NFL requires a ton of power and leverage. It does not necessarily require quick feet on every play. It’s hard for guards to get beat around the edge on many plays because of the congestion in the middle of the field. Playing tackle, in sharp contrast, will leave Bitonio out on an island against some of the best pass rushers in the NFL. He’s got every reason to be concerned about the move.
Presumably, rookie Austin Corbett will be asked to take over for Bitonio on the inside. He’s a decent prospect, but he’s going to struggle early on to play with enough force to move defensive tackles off the line of scrimmage. It might have been wise to try Corbett out as a tackle before committing to him as a guard. That would, of course, allowed Bitonio to continue to hone his craft at his natural guard position.
Ultimately, you have to put the blame for this decision squarely at the foot of the Browns’ front office. They entered the offseason with a clear need at left tackle. Coleman’s poor play last year in relief of Thomas made it obvious he couldn’t be counted on in 2018. Now the coaching staff feels like it needs to move their best offensive lineman to a position where he may play utterly average football. That’s an excellent way to screw up an offense and an offensive line in Cleveland.