Last season, the Browns seemed constantly plagued by the injury bug.
Whether it was Baker Mayfield playing through a gnarly shoulder injury or Kareem Hunt being sidelined with a calf and ankle problem, key Browns struggled to stay healthy.
Unfortunately, not much has changed.
Early in Friday’s preseason game against Jacksonville, Browns center Nick Harris was carted off the field with an apparent knee injury.
It’s never a positive sign when a player can’t leave the field on their own two feet.
But Harris was a projected starter this season.
His potential absence leaves a massive hole in the middle of Cleveland’s offensive line.
Free Agent, Familiar Face
Earlier in the summer, PFF ranked the Browns’ offensive line as the third-best unit in football.
But injury concerns kept the unit from an even higher ranking:
“This line simply needs to stay healthy. Last season, tackles Jedrick Wills Jr. and Jack Conklin played only 763 and 361 snaps, respectively. No offensive line in the league can maintain high-level play with their tackles seeing such little action.”
Harris was elevated to the starting center position after the team declined to bring back J.C. Tretter in free agency.
#Browns C Nick Harris out for game with right knee injury. It looked bad. JC Tretter is still a FA
— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) August 12, 2022
And while Harris didn’t start right away out of college, he’s blown away coaches with his industrious work ethic.
For instance, offensive line coach Bill Callahan heaped praise on Harris’ growth over the summer:
“To see him grow, not only physically — because he’s done a great job in the offseason in the weight room — but mentally picking up the system, learning how to communicate calls, hitting players in the right spots.”
Now the Browns are without Harris, a key part of Cleveland’s plans this season.
Enter J.C. Tretter.
Tretter is still a free agent, having not signed anywhere so far this summer.
And over the last five seasons, Tretter has been a reliable (read: healthy) force under center.
Earlier in the summer, Browns insider Mary Kay Cabot dumped cold water on the idea of a Browns-Tretter reunion.
But she did leave one caveat:
“The only way I see Tretter coming back is if Harris suffers a season-ending injury. But Tretter is still one of the best centers in the NFL and should find work somewhere this season. Perhaps his hard-line stance against the offseason program didn’t help him with some teams.”
Well, here we are, with Harris having suffered a serious injury and Tretter still waiting to sign with a team in free agency.
Look for rumors of a reunion to swell as Harris’ status becomes official over the next few days.
Next Man Up
If the Browns choose not to look outside for a replacement, they might give backup center Ethan Pocic a gander.
Pocic signed with the Browns in the offseason, having spent the first five seasons of his career in Seattle.
Hope this is not serious for Nick Harris. #Browns were high on him.
If this is serious, you’d hope Andrew Berry kept JC Tretter’s phone number.
— Nick Pedone (@NickPedone12) August 12, 2022
The former second-round pick and Rimington Award finalist started 40 games in Seattle.
In 11 games as a rookie, Pocic allowed only two sacks to Russell Wilson, a real achievement for such a young player.
Perhaps the Browns roll the dice with Pocic, hoping his pedigree and surrounding talent mask any serious holes in his play.