Player Profile – Offense – Cleveland Browns
Alex Mack – Center:
The 2009 draft for the Cleveland Browns was not one filled with future Hall-of-Famers or even multiple All-Pros, but the team’s first rounder has continued to be a cornerstone of the franchise ever since being selected. After trading down several times, the front office agreed upon the University of California lineman with the twenty-first selection.
One of the athlete’s strengths coming out of college was his wisdom off of the field. Mack turned down offers from Northwestern and Stanford to play for the Golden Bears. While there, he graduated Cum Laude (3.61) while majoring in Legal Studies. The center finished his undergraduate work early and was studied Education in his fourth year at the Berkeley school. Following the 2008 campaign, Mack won the equivalent of the Heisman award for academics – known as the Draddy Trophy. Clearly the lineman proved he was smart enough to play at the next level; it was now a matter of performing on the field.
The Browns saw a possibility on their draft board who had thirty-nine straight starts for the University of California. The center excelled at blocking both near the line of scrimmage (256 key blocks) and downfield (twenty-nine down field blocks and thirty-two blocks leading to touchdowns). Coming in at six-feet four inches and weighing just over three hundred pounds, Mack had the size to play on the offensive line in the NFL. As the top-rated center available in the draft, the former Golden Bear has lived up to his first-round status.
His rookie season of 2009 was one where he started every single contest. The Browns had just five victories in the campaign, but they finished it with four consecutive wins. These were largely fueled by the rushing attack – primarily by Jerome Harrison. Filling in for Jamal Lewis, the former Washington State back tallied 286 yards against the Chiefs, 148 yards versus the Raiders, and 127 yards facing the Jaguars. Despite a lack of team success, Mack anchored a unit deemed as the team’s bright spot. As a result, he was chosen as a member on the All-Rookie team – drawing comparisons to veteran Joe Thomas.
The 2010 season was another frustrating one; the Browns garnered only five victories again. With a different running back (Peyton Hillis), rushing yards were prevalent in the middle of the campaign. The team totaled over one hundred yards in six of nine contests early in 2010; however the season finished with the team losing their final four games (including defeats to all three division opponents). The end result was Mack and the rest of the Browns playing for a new coach, following the dismissal of Eric Mangini.
Overall, the team took a step back in 2011 – whether that was due to personnel, coaching, or other factors can be debated. The Browns’ offense was rated thirtieth in the league in scoring, twenty-fourth in passing yardage, and twenty-eighth in rushing yardage that season. Suffice to say, there were not ample achievements on that side of the ball. However, Alex Mack started at center all sixteen games (for the third year). One of these was against the Tennessee Titans, where Mack succumbed to appendicitis. The center continued to play through, and had his appendix removed during the bye week – only to play in the following contest. Perhaps the league noticed this; Mack was an alternate for the Pro Bowl and participated after a few linemen bowed out.
2012 produced another quarterback and another running back for the Cleveland Browns – Alex Mack was opening holes for another set of teammates. With rookies at both positions, the Browns improved marginally from the season before in several offensive rankings (twenty-fourth in scoring, nineteenth in passing yardage, and twenty-fourth in rushing yardage). I am sure the offensive line had to have been frustrated; many regarded them (once again) as one of the team’s strengths but team success could not follow. Two more poor seasons and another regime change for the Browns.
Although some changes in coaching and management occurred, Alex Mack enters the 2013 season with a fair amount of stability within offensive personnel. Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz haven proven themselves at the tackle positions, while the trio of John Greco, Jason Pinkston, and Shawn Lauvao are the team’s guards. The offense is no longer relying on rookies at running back, wide receiver, and quarterback – hopefully this unit will resemble the one when coach Chud was a coordinator here (six years earlier).
I envision the Browns re-signing the center to a contract extension before the 2013 season closes, as his rookie deal is near its expiration. He has played very well in his time as a professional, which should continue for many years. Having a center is extremely important for an NFL roster; just take a look at the 2006 Cleveland Browns. After starter LeCharles Bentley’s season-ending (and career-ending) injury in training camp, followed by the suspicious retirement of fill-in Bob Hallen, the team was scrambling to find the right man for the job. Hank Fraley played admirably for the next few years with the team, but the franchise needed someone to anchor the center position for seasons to come.