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Browns left tackle assessment through Week 6: While We’re Waiting

AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File

Joe Thomas was placed in the Cleveland Browns Ring of Honor on Sunday before the game against the Los Angeles Chargers. After a decade of immaculate play from the blind side, the team went into 2018 with far more questions than answers at the spot. After Shon Coleman, Austin Corbett, and Joel Bitonio all took turns attempting to hold down the starting position, it wound up being an undrafted rookie out of West Georgia who won the job. So, let’s assess the performance Desmond Harrison has exhibited in his attempt to replace the future Hall of Fame left tackle.

Week 1 versus Pittsburgh Steelers

Every single passing play of Week 1.

Quarter 1

Quarter 2-3

Quarter 4 – Overtime

Early on, Harrison was an absolute mess including being called for three penalties (two in the first quarter). It should not come as a surprise given he was limited through most of Training Camp, not named the starting left tackle until the lead-up to Week 1, and never had a single snap next to Joel Bitonio during any preseason action. The positive taken from Week 1 were some fluid steps into pass protection, which appeared to be more advanced and refined than had been expected.

Week 2 versus New Orleans Saints

Highlight-1: Poor run blocking

Highlight-2: Beat outside on pass rush

Highlight-1 above shows a recurring theme through the first two weeks was an inability to provide any push in the run game. Harrison’s biggest weaknesses from his draft profile were a lack of bulk and girth, which was shown to be a true problem anytime he was tasked at moving a defender off his spot.

Highlight-2 above shows a rare occurrence where Harrison was beat to the outside. Given defensive ends willingness to challenge unknown quantities in rookie tackles, it is impressive that this play was considered an exception rather than the rule even through the first six games.

Week 3 versus New York Jets

Highlight-3: Copelands spin moves finds him sitting on the turf.

Highlight-4: Missing assignments

The Jets appeared satisfied with attempts to beat Harrison around the corner or try counter and spin moves to beat him as Copeland does above in Highlight-3. Harrison showed good patience and feet throughout the contest as he stayed in front of his man.

Unfortunately, more run issues pop up. Highlight-4 shows another problem Harrison has dealt with… once there is no one in his zone, he should have seal duties on the backside. By the time he turns, the linebacker has leaked past what should have been his point of contact and winds up stopping Chubb short of the goalline.

Week 4 versus Oakland Raiders

Highlight-5: No problem with lesser strength rusher in Bruce Irvin

Highlight-6: Technique and base solid

Highlight-7: Trying to do too much

Harrison had a rather easy day as the Raiders attempted to match up skinny Bruce Irvin on him all day long. The lack of strength from the defensive end was an optimal match up for Harrison as he was able to sit back and stop penetration most of the afternoon. Highlight-5 demonstrates how he had no issue with attempted bull rushes from Irvin. Highlight-6 Harrison shows good poise and patience in keeping his base. Highlight-7 is where Harrison got a bit greedy. He has help and had the situation under control, yet he tried to throw the rusher to the ground. While the end effect of an interception was not his fault, Mayfield was forced to step up in the pocket and make a quick decision as a result.

Week 5 versus Baltimore Ravens

Ugh, the Terrell Suggs bullrush exposed Harrison.
Highlight-8: Drive stalls when Harrison violates the sacred “inside-first” rule.

Highlight-9: Bull rush with inside leverage gets to Mayfield

Highlight-10: Sure, the sack is on Mayfield but Harrison is getting worked.

Highlight-11: Doesn’t get there despite Harrison put on skates.

Highlight-12: YET ANOTHER ONE!

Highlight-13: AGAIN!!! GAH!

Really, almost any play could be selected from the game against the Baltimore Ravens. Terrell Suggs was matched up often, and well Harrison was over-matched. There weren’t any fancy assignments or moves or anything out of the ordinary. Just man versus man in what amounted to a blocking sled drill. Yep, Suggs went with a simple bull rush all game long, which put the rookie on skates into the quarterback’s pocket. He won’t be the last player to test the rookie’s mettle this way.

Week 6 versus San Diego Chargers

Highlight-14: An arm reach leads to a facemask

Highlight-15: Mentality on display

Highlight-16: Whiff block

As with the early weeks, there was some good and some bad in Week 6 for Harrison. A concern that has shown up at times in past weeks cost the Browns in a bigger way on Sunday. Harrison tends to allow his arms to reach rather than making every attempt to put his body in the pathway of the running lane. Highlight-14 shows a completely unnecessary penalty as a result– had he just sat between the defender and runner without even making the block, he would have done his job for the play.

Highlight-15 above shows Harrison’s constant drive to put defenders on the ground. The context is he is being bull rushed and being pushed backwards. But the moment the defender goes for the inside track, Harrison is ready to use the momentum to his advantage. It will be important he does so given his strength disadvantage in these match ups.

Highlight-16 is a rarity for Harrison as he doesn’t get wide enough on his drop-back, which results in a full whiff and Mayfield’s arm being grazed. The window was tight at the line of scrimmage and in coverage, so it is not fair to say it cost the Browns a touchdown on the play, but it certainly affected the throw.

Overall performance

Harrison has been surprisingly effective at sliding to the outside to take away speed rushers on the edge. His feet have been even better than his power forward past had indicated they might be. His mindset on finishing opposing players to the ground when they find themselves off-balance has also been an area that is appreciated by offensive line aficionados.

Most of the issues he has will likely not get fixed during the season. Simply put, he needs to gain weight and strength. When tasked with moving defensive lineman off a spot in the run game, he has been able to obtain a draw at best. When a larger end bull rushes into his chest, he has had not counter. The AFC North is set with these types of bully ends, so his job will not get easier in the future there.

There are items he can improve upon over the next several weeks. Harrison has had the normal rookie struggles of assignments at times, and also a lack of intricate understanding of the offense. Knowing when he has to stop the defender regardless of possible penalty and when being a roadblock is enough are the things veteran offensive lineman rely upon.

Overall, Harrison has been adequate enough though, as teams learn his deficiencies, he will need to develop counter measures to mask his weaknesses. Harrison will also have a crucial offseason ahead of him to gain both the weight and strength needed to become a viable long-term starter. Given the spot he was placed into early in his NFL career, the Browns should be happy with his current efforts with some hope he can improve though he will likely be challenged for the position in 2019.

Thank you, Jake Burns

Notice all of the embedded video above from a single source? Perhaps you have noticed those clips floating around the internet with great frequency and insight over the past two Browns’ seasons.

WFNY’s own Jake Burns is the fastest rising star in Cleveland Browns media. After coming aboard to write a few in depth articles on the Browns offensive and defensive schemes in 2017, he has had a tireless work ethic and incredible knowledge that has allowed him greatly expand his reach across the local football spectrum.

Here are a few of the outlets you can find his work. The suggestion here is to follow and read as much from Burns as you can. I have learned a great deal myself from his coverage the past year. From here at WFNY, a continued thank you for all that you do for the Browns fan community.