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Cleveland Browns: All Eyes Fall on Garrett Gilkey as Injuries Hit the Offensive Line
By Sam Ingro
In just two preseason games, Garrett Gilkey went from obscure seventh rounder on the depth chart, to starting NFL right guard. Through a series of unfortunate incidents for the Cleveland Browns, they will now be relying on the former Chadron (Nebraska) State rookie to bring stability to a bruised up offensive line.
Alongside tackles Joe Thomas, Mitchell Shwartz and center Alex Mack, the Browns filled out their offensive line with a guard combination of John Greco at left guard and Shaun Lauvao at right guard. The lineup did not last long, however, as the Browns lost Lauvao during a one-on-one drill with nose tackle Phil Taylor. Lauvao was carted off the practice field and underwent arthroscopic surgery on August 9th, he is expected to be out six weeks after his surgeon removed loose cartilage on the injured ankle.
The next man up was Jason Pinkston, and he did not fare much better. In his first start of the preseason against the Detroit Lions, Pinkston’s leg was fallen into by Greco, and he suffered a high ankle sprain. The injury puts him on the same timetable as Lauvao in regards to his return, effectively squandering his opportunity to show he has what it takes to start this season. Instead, Gilkey is the beneficiary of the depleted depth chart, as he was thrown into the fire against Ndamukong Suh and the Detroit Lions’ defensive front.
“It was quite the challenge for [Gilkey],” said Browns coach Rob Chudzinski following the game. “He’s not (Hall of Famer) Joe DeLamielleure yet, but he’s made big improvements over the course of the time that he’s been here. That was a good situation. Some young guys are really getting some opportunities to play against some good competition.”
“What I like and what we saw was a big guy who can really move his feet well,” Chudzinski stated. “Where he is coming from, it’s a big adjustment. He played tackle, so moving to guard is usually an adjustment for guys. The level of competition of what he is seeing and the offense is a lot more than what he did in college…I have been pleased with what he is doing; he is a guy who has improved. He just needs to keep working.”
Coming out of college, Gilkey was billed as a student of the game and a hard worker. He is going to need to use all of his intelligence and physical ability to get up to speed with the offense, because after Gilkey, the Browns are down to a pair of undrafted free agents that would need to step up. Against the Lions, he showed good footwork and solid technique, something not exactly expected from a seventh-round draft pick right out of the gate. His habit of playing til the last echo of the whistle is something that quickly will earn him respect from his teammates.
“I thought I got done what I needed to get done,” Gilkey said. “It was definitely a jump, but I’m happy with how I’ve done and with what I did today. (But) I definitely have a lot of things I need to work and get better at.”
Gilkey isn’t the only one who thought he played well on Thursday night, the Browns’ starting tackles also weighed in on what they saw out of their new young linemate. “I thought he did a good job and communicated well,” right tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. “We’ll have to look at the tape but he seemed fine.”
“I think he’s done a nice job,” Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said. “He comes from a really small school so it’s a huge jump, obviously. There’s a lot for him to learn, but he’s a talented guy and you can seen he’s a good athlete.”
For the sake of second-year players like quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson, they had better hope that Gilkey has what it takes to get the job done. Their health, and largely the season, depend on the offensive line’s ability to push the pile forward and gain valuable real estate. Presuming no other players are added, Gilkey will have a very big test in Week 2, and it doesn’t get much bigger than against the Baltimore Ravens.
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